Spur C Ranch to Mt. Riley. 55 miles.
We started our 5 day, 285 mile endurance adventure at the
Spur C Ranch, in Santa Theresa, New Mexico, just west of
El Paso, Texas. My friend Michelle and I had left home
near Moscow Idaho six days earlier with my two Orlov/Arab
cross horses, Nature's Kruschev and Nature's Quicksilver.
Both horses had done a few 50 mile endurance rides the
summer before and had been worked in an indoor arena through
the winter, so though they were far from peak condition, I
thought they could handle this ride as long as we went
slowly and carefully. We spent three days travelling and
then rested for a couple days with friends who had recently
moved to New Mexico from the northwest. We traveled to the
ride camp at the Spur C Ranch on Sunday and spent the
afternoon getting all of our food and gear in good order
for the week.
Randy Eiland has been putting on the Renegade 5-Day Ride for
the past 10 years and his friendly and well organized team
of family members and volunteers made us feel welcome and
in good hands. At the Sunday evening ride meeting he briefed
us on the ride logistics, the terrain and the possible hazards
that we might encounter. The veterinary staff assured us that
they were there to help us get through the ride in good
condition and explained the criteria for judging the horse's
ability to continue. There was to be a mandatory one hour
hold and vet check at the midpoint of each day and every
horse must pass a veterinary exam at this point.
That night we were to treated to a full lunar eclipse in
the east, plus the Hale-Bopp comet glowing on the western
horizon. Good omens!
8:00 Monday morning and 50 horse and rider teams were on
their way. Some were there to ride all five days on the
same horse, some brought two or three horses, and some came
to ride for just a day or two. The horses were fresh -
prancing and chomping at a walk as we warmed up and wove
our way through the badlands outside of Santa Theresa. We
could see the front runners on the cliffs far above us and
the horses were eager to catch them, but the strategy was
to ride slowly and finish all five days. Once we got off
the rocks and cliffs of the badlands, we settled into long
stretches of sandy roads. The horses were accustomed to
hills and mountain trails, but the deep sand can be tougher
if not conditioned for it, so we took it easy and walked
through the deepest parts.
We arrived at the vet check around noon, the horses were
looking good and breezed through the vet exam. We found
our pile of gear, tied the horses, unsaddled and blanketed
them. We fed them hay and water and a soupy mash of bran,
grain, carrots and apples which they loved. The one hour
hold went far too quickly and by the time we had the horses
vetted and fed we barely had time to eat and rest ourselves
before we were saddling them back up and back on the trail.
The wind picked up considerably during the afternoon. We
made pretty good time down more trails and dirt roads, still
walking through the deepest sand to conserve energy. Water
along the trail was plentiful but my big strong gelding was
terrified of the cow tanks. Quicksilver would plunge her
head right in, drinking anything, anywhere, but Kruschev
would take forever to muster the courage - extending his
neck and head and lips as far as they would go with his
front legs braced and trembling and slowly inch his way
forward until he got a drink. Sometimes it would take five
minutes or more, sometimes he never did drink. Very frustrating
when you know that their well being depends so much on their
ability to remained hydrated and fueled. We dosed them
regularly throughout the day with syringes of applesauce,
probiotics and electrolytes - typically at the beginning
and end of each day and at 15 mile intervals throughout the day.
As the sky darkened and the wind increased even more we
began crossing the Portillo Mountains. Randy's wife Carol
Dee rode down to meet us as we began the climb. The trail
marking had been sabotoged. Ribbons and been removed and
moved and rocks with directional arrows had been turned
the opposite way. Several riders had become lost before
they discovered the sabotage and Carol Dee pointed us up
and over the saddle in the right direction where we could
again pick up the trail on the other side. By now the wind
was REALLY blowing - the sand was stinging our faces and
whipping our clothes around. We put fly masks over the horses'
eyes to protect them - they seemed to appreciate it.
We made it down off the mountain and into base camp by 5:00
that evening. The horses looked great for the day's final
veterinary exam. My husband John had flown down to spend
the week driving the trailer from camp to camp and help us
out when we needed it. He was there at camp with everything
ready for us. He had set up the portable corral for the horses
and set out hay and water. We fed them more bran mash, iced
and wrapped their legs and then collapsed. A hot shower,
cold beer, and John's stir fry and we regained enough energy
to set out the food gear for tomorrow.
Mt. Riley to Columbus, New Mexico. 60 miles.
Yesterday's wind had blown in a wintry storm and it was
cold! We left camp at 6:30. This was to be a long day and
Randy wanted to make sure everyone finished in time to go
into Mexico for dinner. We traversed rocky mountain trails
most of the morning. A cold head wind was blowing and seemed
to blast us harder as we crested each ridge. Once we got
down off the mountain and had the wind behind us the day
improved dramatically. The vet check was at a God-forsaken,
wind-blown desolate ranch. We rode past a cattle graveyard
on the way in - vultures and buzzards grinning in the wind.
We did the vet exam and double blanketed the horses. Hay,
water, bran mash, electrolytes, a bite to eat and happy to
be out of there at the end of the hour. The second half of
the day was mostly trail and dirt roads, easy going after
the rocky morning ride, but it seemed to go on forever...
and ever. We spent much of the afternoon riding a fence
line along the Mexico border. Daydreams of banditos and
ranchers and Apaches and Texas Rangers kept my mind occupied.
We stopped frequently and let the horses graze. They seemed
a little low. They perked up considerably after rest and
food and were in great shape when we reached camp. They
vetted through looking great after a brisk trot into the
town of Columbus, NM. John had camp set up again. Hay,
grain, water, electrolytes, bran mash, blankets and leg
wraps for the horses. Hot shower, espresso, a little rest
for us and we were off to Mexico for the evening. The food
was good, the beer was cold and the spirits were high. We
slept like rocks that night ... until ...
Columbus to Victorio Ranch. 60 miles.
... "Steph, the horses are gone!" 5:30 AM, cool and drizzly,
barely enough light to see and no horses. They had broken
through the electric fence sometime during the night. We
split up and scoured the camp. There was a little chestnut
Arab dashing about loose, but no Kruschev and Quicksilver.
I was really starting to worry - three miles from the Mexican
border, a two lane highway with cars going fast in the dark...
I walked up the road and found one of the border police
parked by a restaurant. He looked at me rather dubiously
when I told him my story, but got on the radio and spread
the word. Another patrol car appeared, he hadn't seen or
heard anything either. I met back up with John and Michelle
just as another patrol car radioed in that he was looking
at two horses walking down the highway, a mile from the
border crossing. Michelle and I hopped in the other patrol
cars and John went to get the truck and trailer. We drove a
couple miles down the highway and sure enough, Kruschev was
trucking down the side of the highway, seemingly intent on
reaching the border and Quicksilver was following right
behind. Such relief! We got them back to camp just in time
to grab a quick bite, pack our gear, saddle up and head
back out on the trail.
The day didn't get much better for a while. Quicksilver
was sluggish, didn't seem to feel very good. No telling
what they might have eaten on their little journey. We
trudged on though. The course was quite rocky and Kruschev
was starting be quite tender and slow over the rocks. I
had put pads under all of their shoes, but their feet were
so soft from the winter mud and snow that they were still
tender. I was carrying one easy boot so we stopped and I
put that on. He felt 50% better but still winced when his
other foot hit a rock. A very kind rider came by and offered
me an easy boot for the other foot. He didn't have the
right size with him, but at the vet check we found one in
his trailer that fit Kruschev. Problem solved. We ultimately
put easy boots on Quicksilver also. This is not a commercial
endorsement, but I don't think we could have finished the
ride without them.
We rode along the Mexico border for most of the morning.
At one point we were somewhat delayed when a frightening
tumbleweed hopped onto the road in front of us. There was
absolutely no way that we could get the horses past this
scary little ball as it tumbled along in front of us.
Finally we came to a break in the fenced and hopped the
border into Mexico to gallop around it. Some folks go to
into Mexico to run from the law ...
We reached the 20 mile vet check in a little under three
hours. Quicksilver seemed to be feeling better and we
vetted through fine. It was a cold and dismal hour and we
were a little crabby, but food and rest and one hour later
we were back on ttrail. We had 40 miles to cover that
afternoon and left the check with another group of riders
so the horses would have some company to keep their spirits
up. The weather broke and our spirits lifted as we began
climbing Carazallio Mountain. It was absolutely beautiful.
Cactus of every sort, spectacular views, good company.
Some of the century plants were beginning to bloom and
last year's flowering stalks were still standing - skeletal
sentinels 10 to 20 feet high. The grim morning mood quickly
We made good time after we got down off the mountain. The
horses were strong and we flew across the flats. We followed
the border some more then headed north to Victorio Ranch.
A one hour rest, food and back on our way. We walked often
later in the afternoon and gave them plenty of opportunity
to graze. The relatively slow pace makes for a long day, but
takes very little out of the horses. John was waiting for us
at camp as usual. We took care of the horses and left them
tied to the trailer for the night - it's a little harder on
them not being able to walk around but I decided to take no
chances on their escaping again!
Victorio Ranch to Maygold Well. 55 miles.
Day 4 is a bit of a blur... the sun was back, clear sky,
perfect temperature, nice breeze. We rode uneventfully
through rocks, sand, trails, roads, mountains, flats. It
was our longest day at 9 1/2 hours ride time. Not a difficult
day, but we were all feeling poky. John drove out to meet
us at the vet check - a welcome site. Once again the horses
vetted in great - low pulse rates, well hydrated, good gut
sounds, legs tight and clean, no galls or sore muscles. The
regular stuff for the horses, plus hot food and espresso
for us thanks to John, and once again we were on our way.
We rode with some other folks off and on during the afternoon,
rode through an abandoned mining town with crumbling adobe
buildings and ghostly mine shafts and reflected on the hard
lives the early settlers must have had.
We had a lovely evening, the Skinners invited us to dinner -
Kenny had slow cooked a roast over a mesquite fire. It was
heavenly. The night was excepionally clear, zillions of stars
and the Hale-Bopp comet was the brightest that I had ever
Mangold Well to Shakespear. 55 miles.
We couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to finish the
ride on. Out of camp and up and over the Coyote hills. Big
boulders and juniper caught the morning sun. The horses were
strong and fresh and we did our fastest riding of the week.
About 20 miles into the morning we rode along the shoulder
of the highway for several miles - up and over the continental
divide. Ordinarly riding along a highway would have been
rather undesirable, but several crew rigs were following
along encouraging riders and offering fresh water. We were
delighted with the Werthers caramels that we were offered
and knew we had gone to heaven when another wonderful soul
gave us chocolate covered ice cream bars.
This day was a breakthrough for Kruschev who finally overcame
his fear of cow tanks. He stepped up to the first tank we
came took, thrust his head down and drank. I swear he
strutted off afterwards with his head held higher.
John met us again at the vet check. Hay, water, bran mash,
sunshine, cool breeze, espresso and some delicious locally
made burritos that Randy had given us the day before. The
horses passed the vet check looking good and then back out
for the final 25 miles. We rode along dirt roads and an
old railroad bed and then climbed up into the Doghead
Mountains. There were big rocky outcrops in every direction,
covered with red, yellow and green lichens - compelling rock
formations that conjured up all sorts of images. Golden
poppies were blooming, orange globe mallow, purple asters
and wild onions, white lilies and yellow mustards - maybe
it was the delirium of having ridden so many miles, but
the beauty was totally overwhelming. We reluctantly rode
down off the mountain through narrow draws with springs
and cottonwood and desert holly trees.
The final 10 miles were a little less euphoric. The
afternoon got hot, the breeze subsided, the dirt road was
hard and the horses were feeling tender footed again. So
we plodded along. We finally got off the road and headed
cross country to the finish. John was perched up on a hill
top with the video camera - the horses seemed to perk up
for the final stretch to the finish. We presented our
horses to the vet for their final check - they looked great.
Kruschev received A's on all parameters. I led him away from
the vet and broke down in tears. Admiration and respect for
these incredible animals and the harsh beautiful country
that we rode through for the past five days. Amazing.
That night we went into Lordsburg, NM (a few miles from the
Arizona border) for the awards banquet. It was fun to see
all the people looking like humans again - tanned faces,
high spirits. 42 riders had endeavored to ride all five
days on the same horse, 30 succeeded. As Randy stated ,
"To finish this ride you have to have a good horse, ride
well and most of all have a lot of luck. Anything can
happen." Randy and his team did an exceptional job staging
this ride - the logistics are overwhelming if you stop to
thing about it too long. This year was the Renegade's
10-year anniversary and Randy and Carol Dee went all out
with the awards - all of which were antiques from Old
Mexico. The completion awards were rustic wooden plaques
tastefully emblazoned with old spurs and bits, rusty horse
shoes and barbed wire, a unique brand burned into the
center of the plaque, and an arrowhead for each day that
was completed. Very unique and special.
It still amazes me to think that a horse can cover so many
miles over such rugged terrain. And do it fast - the winning
time for the entire 285 miles was 22 hours and 20 minutes -
incredible! And the winning horses looked great. As I rode
the country I thought about the history a lot - the early
Apaches as they followed the seasons for food and shelter,
the US Calvary and life and death skirmishes with Geronimo
and his canny band. The hundreds of miles they must have
covered in flight and pursuit and their dependency on the
tough horses and mules to save their lives. This country
is about toughness - both physical and mental.
...I'm a humbler person for having experienced a small piece