Fort Howes Ride in Montana selected for 2020 AERC National Championships

Connie Caudill riding Tans Terminator (left) and Hannah Johnson on Kourageus Hope finish together at the 2018 Fort Howes 100. Photo © Becky Pearman.

After a successful 2019 championship ride in California’s Mojave Desert, endurance riders will head to Montana for 2020’s premier ride

by Jan Stevens

Homesteaded in 1883, the Circle Bar Ranch, located near Otter, Montana, is a working cattle ranch with the seventh generation calling it home. When founded, the Circle Bar Ranch was one of seven ranches south of the Yellowstone River in the Territory of Montana—Montana didn’t become a state until 1889. Situated on the south fork of Otter Creek, the ranch is nestled in the middle of the Ashland Ranger District of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest.

The Ashland Ranger District is known for its abundant wildlife, covering just over one-half million acres, and offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities including hunting, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, camping, mountain biking and cross-country skiing. In addition, the district is known for having one of the largest livestock grazing programs in the nation.

After joining AERC in 1995 and receiving some prompting from fellow endurance riders, my husband Bill and I decided to try our hand at hosting a ride in 1997. We had hoped have a few of our friends show up and ride, but were pleasantly surprised to have 32 riders start the two distances we offered.

The next year we pulled out all the stops and added a one-day 100-mile ride to the 25- and 50-mile distances and hosted 54 riders. In 1999 the numbers jumped to 87 riders and in 2002 we hosted the Arabian Horse Association (IAHA) National Championship and changed to a two-day format.

In 2005, we hosted the AERC National Championship with 56 starters in the 100 and 52 starters in the 50 and in 2007 we hosted the AHA National Championship again. In addition to hosting the AERC events we have offered several AHA Regional Championships, as well as hosting FEI-sanctioned events.

Coming in 2020

In 2020, we are very excited to once again host the AERC National Championship. This event will help us to celebrate 24 years of hosting AERC endurance rides on our ranch and the surrounding Custer-Gallatin National Forest. We are looking forward to sharing our little piece of paradise with the AERC membership.

So mark your calendars for June 5, 2020, for the AERC 50-mile National Championship and June 7, 2020, for the AERC 100-mile National Championship.  The basecamp covers nearly 15 acres with plenty of room for big rigs to pull in, turn around and park. The large red-and-white circus tent is our base of operations when it comes time to feed the masses and to hold meetings.

Steaks from ranch-raised cattle are just one of the amenities of the Fort Howes rides. Here, Bill Stevens mans the grill in preparation for dinner. More than 200 steaks with all the fixings are cooked each year at the ride. Photo © Becky Pearman.

And since we’re talking about food, we pride ourselves in what we do for a living—raising beef to feed the nation. At our regular ride we typically cook over 200 USDA Choice sirloin steaks over an open fire and you can rest assured that we’ll be doing it for the AERC NC participants and their crews.

To top that off, for the past few years we’ve been lucky to have women from the local Amish community come to the ride and offer to cook fresh donuts and sell baked goods. We anticipate that they will be there for the Championship as well!

Many of the trails that we have used in the past will serve as our trails in 2020, although we are looking at adding some more diversity to them for this coming year. For the most part our trails are unimproved two-track jeep trails, cows trails and open meadows. We do have a minimal amount of gravel roads, however, reducing the gravel portion is one of changes we are hoping to make!

Our basecamp is located at 3300 feet elevation and as the trails loop out onto the forest one can expect to climb another 1000’ on each of the different loops going out of basecamp. While most of the vet checks are in camp, we will have at least one, if not two, out-of-camp vet checks for the 100 and probably one for the 50.

One can expect to see the sunrise around 4:45 a.m. and the sunset around 9:30 p.m., so there will be plenty of daylight. We’ll plan to start the 50 at 6:00 a.m. and the 100 at 5:00 a.m.

You may ask, what should we expect for weather that time of year in southeastern Montana? I’d have to say that you should plan for anything and everything. Typical daytime temperatures are in the upper 70s to mid-80s and the nighttime temperatures in the 40s and 50s. That being said, we’ve had it snow before and we’ve had temperatures in the 90s—though not on the same day. Our neighbors joke with us and have asked us to have our ride every weekend, as we can always count on at least some rain during the weekend of our ride.

In addition to the AERC National Championship distances on the 5th and the 7th of June, we are going to host open rides on the 6th. Just to switch it up a bit we’re going to offer two limited distance rides—one will start at 7:00 a.m. and the other at 3:00 p.m. We’ll also have a 50 and a 75 that day.

We feel that since we’re going to have a party, we might just as well live it up!

And since I mentioned a party, I’m sure you’re interested in hearing what we have in store for the awards ceremonies for the event. Currently we have plans to celebrate the achievements of the horse and rider teams of the AERC 50 Mile National Championship the evening of the 5th once all the riders are off the trail.

The AERC National Championship 100-mile teams will celebrate their accomplishments on Monday morning.

Needless to say, we’re very excited to be selected as the host ride for the AERC National Championship in 2020. We look forward to sharing our ranch and the surrounding countryside with our fellow AERC members. Plan now to travel to southeastern Montana to compete on the trails of the Fort Howes Endurance Rides June 5 through 7, 2020!

 Learn more about AERC online!

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