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Monday, July 25, 2011

Tired of all the Tevis chatter?

Then let's talk about one of the other "big 100's".

When I think of the 100's that would be on my bucket list had I unlimited funds and time, Tevis (California), Old Dominion (Virginia), and Big Horn (Wyoming) would be the three "big ones". Another consideration is Virignia City (Nevada) but is geographically close to Tevis and so tends to be lost in the Tevis chatter.

All three rides are well established, historical, and have huge national followings. All three boast of spectacularly difficult trails, breathtaking scenery, and a dedicated ride management staff. All three are almost legendary in terms of stories and fables attached to the rides.

Of the big three, I have completed Tevis. The next logical one for me to do is Big Horn, in Wyoming. I LOVE Wyoming. There's something about the big open skies and the landscape that resonates with me perfectly. I doubt I'll ever live there because of the long cold winters, but I try to find excuses to visit. The thought of being able to do 100 miles in that beautiful state sets my heart a'pitter pattering.

Here's the unfortunate thing. Big Horn seems to be one of those rides where "stuff" happens. Read Merri's account of the Big Horn this year here.

What she writes about are not isolated incidents to this year. Over the last couple of years, similar things have happened to a lesser or greater extent - some of which have been completely out of the management's control, and some which were not.

There is the view that endurance is a sport where the rider should be prepared for anything on the trail - including riding a wilderness trail with very few markings or precautions for rider and horse safety.

In general, I tend to lean towards this view in that the rider should be prepared and it's not up to the ride management to warn and hand-hold riders through a difficult trail - the rider and horse should have prepared adequately for the challenge.

However - I've also come to a point in my endurance riding where I have realized not all 50's or 100's are created equal. Just because there's a ride on the schedule that would fit into my ride season perfectly is no longer a good enough reason to add it to my calendar. It's a question of risk and much I'm willing to take for the precieved "benefit" of finishing the ride.

The American River 50 was the ride that really cemented this concept. I had a 100 miler horse who was fit and ready to go. I had ridden the ride before and also conditioned some of the same trails, so I felt like I knew what I was getting myself into. I had thought my perception of the ride's difficulty was due to the fact that I had tried this ride in 2007 as my first endurance ride, on a horse that wasn't conditioned to go the distance.

After completing the ride in 2010 on a well prepared horse, I promised myself that I would never do the ride again. Too hard and too much to ask of my horse ever again. That 50 milers was harder than any 100 I've done, including Tevis. I'm not asking that the ride management change the ride just because I've decided not to ride it - however I've decided that for this rider and horse team, we would rather complete many more 100's and 50's and not risk a career ending injury on a ride that is inordinately difficult just for the sake of bragging rights.

There seems to be certain rides where "stuff" happens. I've also ridden one of those! Every year something happens. Sometimes the catalyst was something the ride manager couldn't control - like the weather - however the situation would be made worse by the management response. Other years it would be last minute changes - such as cut off times for vet checks - that were made as riders were at the start line staring the ride - and required a significantly faster pace than the regulation "to finish" time. Taken singly, each incident could be explained away, but when issues arise each and every year, I again start looking at that ride in terms of risk versus benefit.

Unfortunately, the stories that have come out of Big Horn in the last couple of years seem to conform to both of these "red flags". I don't want that to be true. I want this gorgeous 100 to be a reality on my ride record some day. But, based on the lessons I've learned and the commitments I've made to Team Faubel (my nickname for the Farley/Melinda team), Big Horn may remain a dream only unless significant changes are made.

We are lucky that in endurance we have the freedom to discuss events and issues frankly without ramifications or fear of being black listed in the community. Of course, this only holds true if we stick to the facts and not personally attack anyone (hint hint hint - if you comment on this post, keep it civil). That freedom is NOT a part of another horse sport I'm involved in - Dressage. Very few (and I'm NOT included in that group) are comfortable lodging formal complaints or notifying the national organizations about shows because of the impact it will have on their careers. This kind of fear is not something we need in endurance.

I don't want to see the Big Horn ride go away. I want to ride it some day. I think it's a ride that should be preserved if at possible. However, considering the Big Horn issues, I think the question should be asked: What do endurance riders have a right to expect at endurance rides?

Endurance rides are not highly regulated - most of the rules concern horse welfare, drug use, and finishing criteria. Right now, each rider must decide for themselves what are the "must haves" at a ride, and chose rides based on how well they conform to their personal requirements.

Here are my expectations and requirements for a ride:

1. That the trail is clearly marked using ride specific colors/markings, or uses a GPS track

2. There are no cut offs that require me to ride significantly faster than a "to finish" pace as defined by AERC.

3. The ride does not have a significant portion of it's riders finishing overtime each year. This less of a factor when evaluating 100's - mostly an issue when I'm looking at 50's.

4. If the ride is at night, that the course is marked with lights of some kind at reasonable intervals depending on the terrain.

5. The ride management has made a reasonable effort to warn riders of significant hazards, including similar markings that are on the trail that could lead riders into a perilous situation if followed.

6. How ride managers have reacted to situations in the past when faced with an unexpected event - such as inclement weather.

Each of these were developed because of a specific ride experience that I had that spooked me badly. Obviously no ride is perfect - some of the requirements are by necessity vague and I evaluate rides on a case by case basis. Some are more important to me than others, and if the ride "infractions" to my requirements are minor, I may be able to mitigate the risk by specificly preparing. However, this is my general guideline for evaluating risk.

Post of the day: Head on over to EG's and see her hilarious post here.


  1. I've crewed the Bighorn three times for my partner, twice the 100, once the 50. Late 1990's. I think it has become significantly more difficult over the years; we had maps and meetings and no one got stuck up in the mountains. My partner always linked up with locals, this was in the old days of no GPS. We've done other rides in Wyoming put on by the same organizer-it's way more relaxed than our CA rides-but Wyoming!-simply amazing and worth it.

  2. I crewed at OD this year. It was BEAUTIFULLY run and quite the experience. It's on my bucket list. Maybe Rayzer will be the horse to take me there. I'd love to SEE Tevis just to say I'd been there, but I don't know that riding it will ever happen for me.

    Good list of requirements. I think they're all sane and well thought out. Trail marking is SO important. My worst experiences on trail have involved markings that weren't clear or weren't double checked on ride day. I'm still convinced that Ozzy's in-completion at Foxcatcher last year was partly due to the fact that the top 10 riders (myself included) did an additional 10 miles on an already tedious 25 mile loop after some ribbons blew down in a storm the night before.

  3. I'm attracted to the ride because the views are sooooo purty...but I have no intention of doing this ride until the recurring problems get resolved!
    * Trail *MUST* be marked. If there are known trail vandals (elk, human, wind, whatever) then figure out how to out-mark the vandals.
    * Communication is important--in our region, we have befriended local groups of ham radio operators, many of whom will help out our events at little or no charge (they use it as a training opportunity).
    * Trail managers need to be reasonably organized, have an adequate number of volunteers and vets, know the trail, and are READY when the riders show up. One crisis is a problem. Two is a coincidence. More than three or four is a pattern that I choose to avoid!

    Yes, this is the voice of experience.


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