A first 100 for this Gaited Standie cross was quite the adventure
I acquired Steep Canyon Ranger, a 9-year-old Standardbred X Tennessee Walking Horse/Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse gelding in May of last year as a “project.” His behavior problems were making him unsuitable as a trail horse, so I thought I’d give him a crack at endurance riding. I got him registered with the American Endurance Ride Conference and we began training.
My first few rides on him confirmed that he had some challenging behavior problems to overcome, but that he was also a tough horse that was built to do the job. As I had been looking for a back-up gaited endurance horse, I figured I’d put some time into him and see how he did.
He had a good trail base, so after some initial conditioning, I felt confident in entering him in an AERC 50-mile ride in October. He sailed through with ease and we did some multi-days over the fall and winter with the help of my friends Annette Phillips and Jelena Woehr catch-riding him.
My plan was to take my main TWH mare to the Twenty Mule Team 100 in Ridgecrest, California, but unfortunately, she caught some nasty virus two months before the ride. I decided to take a chance on Ranger. As he had completed 150 miles in three days at Death Valley, I figured he could physically do it, but I was unsure how he would be without a buddy horse.
The trip down to Ridgecrest was uneventful and he camped and ate like an old pro. On the morning of the ride, we left about 10 minutes after the main crowd to avoid any behaviors stemming from anxiety. To my delight, he was calm and cooperative, and our start was as relaxed as I could have hoped. He powered into a fluid rack after cresting the ridge as the sun broke over the desert. It was going to be a good day!
We were the last of the 100s leaving camp and, after gazing over the horizon, I realized that my slow start attempt may have relegated us to riding alone for 100 miles. This would be no problem on my forward mare, but I knew Ranger did better with motivation from a group. I asked him for a bit more effort and we caught up to some other riders by the first vet check.
To my relief, Nick Warhol asked if I wanted to ride with him. This was good for a number of reasons, the main being that Nick marked the trail and I rode with him on the 100-last year. He’s great company. Nick was also taking his wonderful mare GS Stilani (Sorsha) through her first 100.
We set off to lunch. Ranger and Sorsha paced well together and all was harmonious save the occasional snarky face from both of them. Gretchen Montgomery joined us at lunch and our group had smooth sailing through the 55-mile vet check and back into camp for our 65-mile hold.
Ranger did an excellent job of eating, drinking and taking care of himself. While he wasn’t enjoying the super-athlete recoveries of Sorsha ,her Cardiac Recovery Index was 36/36 at lunch and 32 at 90 miles, he was always pulsed down as soon as we came to the check. I was thrilled as he is a big-bodied, big-boned, non-Arab.
During our 35-mile loop in the dark, we spent a lot of time walking and enjoying the beautiful desert. It was windy and brisk, but the moon was out, and the trail was easy going. These magical moments in the dark hours of the morning are my favorite parts about 100-mile rides. The horses all looked wonderful at the 90-mile check and we rode conservatively back into camp.
Ranger finished his first 100-mile ride around 3:00 a.m. I was very proud of him; he was well-behaved, smooth-gaited and altogether a pleasure to ride all day and night!
The morning after we returned, I watched him canter and buck around the back pasture. To ask a lot and see him respond with gusto is a great reward for hard conditioning work and a bit of faith. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Ranger. For now, I’m happy I took the chance and went for it!
Story by Brenna Sullivan
To find out more about endurance riding and the American Endurance Ride Conference, visit www.aerc.org