On Saturday December 14, 2019, the 2020 AERC ride season opened in Arizona with the second annual Dashing Through the Trails endurance ride held at Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Goodyear. Once again the ride was managed by Effee Conner, and assisted by her daughter Brittany Cartrette. The entire extended Conner family pitched in to make this ride possible – marking trail, manning water stops, making sandwiches at the vet check, trotting horses, and everything else that goes into putting on an endurance ride.
There were some changes to the trail this year, based on rider feedback from the inaugural race in 2018. The distances were shorted (55 to a 50, and 35 to a 25 for the LD), and the LD route included longer sections with great footing and less technical areas. The 50-mile riders still had all of the technical sections from last year, though the layout of the trail was updated to include more trottable sections. Assistant RM Brittany Cartrette said the “feedback was positive, and the trail was challenging which made it fun”.
Another change for this year was the inclusion of a Ride with GPS option for riders who wanted to take advantage of turn-by-turn voice navigation to keep them on course. Although the trails were easy to follow with conventional maps, ribbons, and pie plates – one of the benefits of riding in the Regional Park system is that all turns were at permanently marked trail sign junctions – having a little extra confidence while on trail is what Ride with GPS provides. Local rider Andrea Maitland volunteered to create all the tracks by pre-riding, adding voice cues, and then re-riding all of the routes to make sure they were accurate. 50-mile rider Leona Beveridge, a self-described non-tech savvy person, stated that Ride with GPS was “spot on and easy to use. I had absolutely NO issues with the directions. I enjoyed the comments like “horse eating bench” and “mini Cougar rock ahead”. Thank you so much for all you do to help keep us riders safe on the trail with the awesome RWGPS tracks.”
The trail itself was a mixture of technical rocky terrain, some elevation gain (about 3500 feet total for the 50, and 2000′ for the LD) and stretches of good footing that mostly consisted of varying depths of desert sand. Hoof protection was a necessity due to the abrasive nature of the trail.
The changes to the LD this year made it a faster course, with all but one rider finishing in under 5 hours of ride time. 24 out of 26 completed. First place and BC went to Corina Voll riding Igor do Lucero (Nashville), with a ride time of 3:26. The turtle went to Bruce Weary riding his new mustang Buckles. It was Buckles’ first LD and they enjoyed nearly every minute of the allotted time, finishing with a ride time of 5:14.
The 50, affectionately dubbed the ‘Arizona Virginia City’ due to all of the rocks, was much more technical, and as a result the ride times were slower. About a third of the field finished well after dark, with the turtle team of Stephanie Duross, riding Hadji Halef Omar (Hadji) and Barb Clausen, riding Ashquars Dream (Ash) coming in with one minute to spare with a ride time of 11:59. This was an especially significant ride for Stephanie and Hadji, as they completed their DOUBLE Decade Team with this completion. Twenty years of riding 50-mile rides together – what an accomplishment! First place and BC in the 50 went to Susie Kramer riding A Ali Aseel (Steel), with a ride time of 6:24. The trail took its toll on a few horses, with 20 completing out of 28 starters.
There was also a Fun Ride in addition to the LD and 50. 8 riders took to the trails for the Fun Ride, and navigated the Competitive Track loop. This is a tough and challenging 10 miles, with lots of climbing and technical sections. 13-year-old Junior Marshall Brown completed his first ride on the trusty mule Queen Z (Zelda), owned by Courtney Colvin. Marshall was also sponsored by Courtney and co-sponsored by Catherine Gottschalk. Marshall had an awesome first ride and enjoyed every minute of it.
“Catherine suggested I might like endurance. She was right! It is a fun way to get in all the minutes and miles I want. It was a new experience to participate in the vet checks before and after the ride, as well as see the organization of the event. This was my first time riding a mule, too. It took me a minute to get used to the way she moved. I had to be on my toes to keep her from straightening out the curves. My favorite part of the trail was not hearing or seeing the sights and sounds of modern life, like cars, houses or construction. This made it easy to pretend I was riding in a posse from an old western movie. The several steep descents and technical twists added to the black and white scenes playing in my head.” When asked if anything interesting happened, he said, “As we rode out and spotted the first signage of the trail, a pony in our group decided she wasn’t interested in going any further. We tried various approaches of urging her along; pushing her with a horse, dismounting and shooing her and pulling her from the ground and saddle. It was slow going. At the top of a hill, she balked again. We were almost out of ideas. I decided it was my turn to have a go. I jumped down and went running after her, flailing my arms, stomping and hollering like a crazy person with a taste for lazy ponies. She finally moved on. I didn’t want to stop the momentum, so I mounted Zelda at a walk. The tenacity of the rider kept the pony going to the end…or at least until she realized the trail turned back toward the trailers!” Would he do another endurance ride in the future? “Absolutely! I’m looking forward to it!”
Not all rides go according to plan, as 50-mile rider Rebecca Roush found out when she became separated from her horse Tequila early in the ride and spent several hours apart before being reunited. The reason for the wayward horse and rider team? Not choosing the right time or place to pee! Rebecca said she “got off my horse in a little wash so as to not be seen peeing. My horse was very excited to catch the LD riders she saw ahead. I had a hold of her the whole time until I didn’t. I was one handed pulling up my chonies when she decided to hop straight up the side of the switchback much to my chagrin. My choice was to be pulled along with her while falling and possibly being dragged as she was now at least 2 feet above me or to let go. I chose to let go.” Tequila took of after the horses in front of her, but ended up deeper into the desert and not on any of the ride routes. Fortunately for Tequila, Rebecca had a GPS SPOT device on her, which allowed Rebecca to track her horse’s location remotely. Both horse and rider were safe and uninjured throughout the ordeal. The moral of the story? Choose your potty break spots wisely!
Ride photography was provided by Susan Kordish of AZ Cowgirl Photography. Susan and her husband John can be found out on the trail at many of the Arizona rides, capturing memories and ride moments for riders to enjoy for years to come. The ride photos from this ride can be seen at: https://www.azcowgirlphotography.com/EquestrianEvents/2019-Equestrian-Events/2019-Dashing-Through-The-Trails/.
Overall this was a fantastic ride weekend and a well-run event. The Conners put their hearts and souls into the ride, and their dedication showed throughout the weekend. If you are looking for a technically challenging course that will test you and your horse (possibly in the dark!), then come out next year to Dashing Through the Trails!
Our next Arizona ride is the Tonto Twist 50 on January 18th, out in Apache Junction and managed by Lancette Koerner. It is Arizona’s only stand-alone 50 (no LD option), and is a great ride to test yourself by moving up in distance. Vet checks are all in-camp, the trail is challenging yet fun, and lots of volunteers to help you succeed. And bonus for this year, the $115 ride entry fee will be covered for ALL riders attempting their first 50! See you at the Twist!
Thank you to Andrea Maitland for compiling this write-up.