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2020 Big Horn - 50th Anniversary!





The Epic 2020 Big Horn 100 - Merri Melde

 by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
August 6 2020 

As if the Big Horn 100 weren’t hard enough when everything goes fairly right, this year’s edition (the 50th anniversary by most counts) got the double whammy of happening during a COVID-19 year, which stopped AERC endurance rides cold from the end of March through the beginning of June, leaving many riders with little to no endurance rides in which to prep their horses. Usually, most entrants have several rides under their girths halfway through a normal season, so some had to rely on just conditioning rides at home to prepare their mounts. 

And this year, since Tevis was cancelled, many riders flocked to Shell, Wyoming, to tackle the west’s other epic 100-miler in the mountains, setting a record for entries (for a non-Race of Champions Big Horn ride). 

And this is no pansy endurance ride. It’s one of the “real old school” endurance rides, as finisher Jeanette Mero called it. It’s one big loop, starting from hot base camp in the dark, up into the Big Horn mountains for a hundred miles, where the weather can be anything, back down to hot base camp arriving in the dark for the finish (and if you’re not in the top ten, you’ll be negotiating many mountain miles in the dark). The other hard 100 in the West, Tevis, has some 800 volunteers on the trail. Big Horn has less than a hundred, scattered in base camp and vet checks. If you or your horse get into trouble up there, you may be waiting a long time for help, as there’s mostly zero cell service (including base camp, even if you can call out to someone there for help), and little access to trails. Come prepared, or don’t come. 

You want to get your ducks in a row for this ride. You bring a fit horse, or you’ve already cut your finish chances by half. Bring yourself fit, also, and prepare for anything, (bad weather, nausea, bugs, etc) because you’re not doing your horse any favor if you get sick up on the mountain (it happens… the altitude and the often brutal heat down below). And don’t even consider starting without a 100% sound horse, because he’s not going to improve miles on down this trail. It’s good to also have a decent sense of direction, or to be able to pay attention well to trail markings and have common sense, because you don’t want to waste time getting lost off trail. 

Some riders got hit with the usual summer Big Horn thunderstorms; a severe one dumped hail and cold rain, making the trails on the descents muddy and slick, some of that in the dark for many people. 

“Big Horn was everything its reputation was reported to be - incredibly tough, rugged, and remote trail. Climbing up to 9000 plus foot elevations. It’s forest service roads, single tracks, rocks, sand and relentless, literally relentless, up and down climbing from the start all the way to the finish,” Jeanette said afterwards. “…at the end we had to come down a piece they called the ‘slick rock’ at about 95 plus miles into the ride. It was an impressive couple miles of downhill, large sheets of white, ice skating rink, type rock. And that was after finishing the last couple hours in the dark trying to avoid all kinds of trail hazards like deep washes, cattle guards, and ruts that would swallow you and your horse whole.” 

Riders came from 23 states: Texas, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Virginia, South Dakota, California, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin, Idaho, Oregon, North Dakota, New Jersey, Nevada, Florida, Washington, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Oklahoma, Maryland, North Carolina. 

We saw some of the top riders from around the country: the Blakeleys (they’ve won the Tevis Cup or Haggin Cup more than once), the Reynolds (they’ve won the Tevis Cup or Haggin Cup many more than once), Suzie Hayes (has one horse in the AERC Hall of Fame, Kootenai Zizzero, 2011), Hannah Johnson and Kourageus Hope (the one-eyed Stuart, winner of the Big Horn 100 three times - entered in this year’s 50 miler), and more. 

20 started the 50 miler with 15 finishing. Hannah and Stuart crossed the finish line first in a ride time of 8:00. Stuart won the Best Condition award. The 50 milers rode the first half of the 100-mile loop, finishing at the highway crossing, and getting a trailer ride (eventually) back to camp.

80 started the 100 mile ride with 42 finishing. Gabriela Blakeley and LLC Pyros Choice crossed the finish line first in the 100, just after dark, but her horse didn’t pulse down in the required 30 minutes, hanging just above the criteria. 

Which left the second horse to cross the line, Sanstormm and Suzanne Hayes the winners of the 100 miler in a ride time of 15:15. Most of you know that Suzie is an amazing horsewoman and human being. Some of you may not know that just 7 weeks earlier, Suzie had a terrible horse wreck where she broke 10 ribs (some in multiple places - Suzie said, “Go and google ‘flail chest’” (!!!!) ), punctured a lung, cracked a vertebra, and lacerated her liver. It was only Tuesday before the ride that her doctor approved her riding. Of course, she probably did not tell him what kind of riding she would be doing. She rode with a protective vest, a crash vest tethered to her saddle so that if she came off, the vest would inflate before she hit, and a Spot locator in case of emergency. And she looked better than I did on Sunday morning! 

Ann Hall rode Suzie’s other horse Greenbriar Al Jabar (Atlas) to a third place finish, just 4 minutes behind Suzie. 

Second place went to Cameron Holzer (in 15:15.02) a top rider from Texas who’s got over 11,000 AERC miles and 25 100-mile finishes, and Lily Creek Kong, who has over 1800 miles, with 9 50-mile wins, 1 75-mile win, and 4 100-mile wins over an 8-season career. 

Colorado’s Sami Browneller and Annapurna finished 4th in 15:19.02. Fifth place went to Vicki Holzer - Cameron’s mom - and SW Majestica in 15:19.03. They also got the Best Condition award. 

Sixth place was Sanoma Blakeley and OMR Quicksan (15:26), 7th place went to Jeanette Mero and Ozark Kaolena SWA in 17:08, 8th place was Jeanette’s daughter Reyna Mero and Vaz Djets On in 17:08.01, 9th was Heather Reynolds and ASuddenGift MHF in 18:10, and 10th place was Melissa Montgomery and Masterful. Of the top ten finishers, only Suzie Hayes and Sami Browneller had ridden the Big Horn trail before. 

A few take-aways from this year’s event:
My heroes are:
10-year-old rider Cassidy Miller, from Colorado, was going for her third 100-mile completion (she finished the Big Horn last year, and the Vermont 100 in 2018!). Cassidy and her mom pulled at a vet check up on the mountain, “due to some mistakes I made preparing the horses (this sport is so humbling but they both are happy and doing great now),” said Cassidy’s mom, Kelly Stoneburner. “Cassidy was such a trooper and good sport about being pulled and I think sometimes learning to accept a different outcome is excellent character building!”

And Suzie Hayes, the winner. She was my hero anyway, but just the fact that she rode this Big Horn, not to mention winning it after being in ICU 7 weeks earlier, made her my super hero. As Connie Holloway said, “Suzie set the bar WAY HIGH!” Unattainable, for most of us! 

At least 2 riders got their decade team status with this year’s Big Horn 100: Kristen Grace and HCC Elessar (aka Monster), and Michelle Seaman and Me Encanta Dinero (this was Dinero’s first ride of the season!). 

The one mule entered on Saturday finished the 100 (completion only). Jet’s Danny Herlong and Nancy Sluys had never ridden the Big Horn before; Danny had never attempted a 100 before. This Arab-mule’s dam is Joni Burden’s mare’s half sister - Joni and Jambor be Petit Jet finished the Big Horn 100 in a ride time of 20:03. 

And if you think riding the Big Horn 100 is hard, putting on the ride itself is not for the faint-hearted ride manager. Any endurance ride can knock the stuffing out of a ride manager, but adding the stress of COVID, a record number of riders on a remote trail, and taking over from the previous Big Horn 100 group that put it on, makes a big-loop 100-miler the stress test of the century. And that doesn’t count for the usual trail sabotage (though so many riders said the trail was excellently marked; Kristen Grace, who finished the 100, commented, “It was so well marked that parts of it were lit up like Christmas trees!”), the unpredictable weather (some riders got caught in a hail storm and were left with treacherously slick trails to contend with up on the mountain), and various other things that always come up. 

Cindy Collins did a great job of putting the whole shebang together this year, and the veterinarians and the volunteers were stellar and tireless. Days after the ride Cindy and volunteers are still pulling trail markers. 

And so ends another epic Big Horn 100 ride adventure. Jeanette Mero summed it up best: “The memories we made over the last couple days will keep us laughing and crying for years.”

Rural Arlee woman battles through pain, wins 100-mile horse race in Wyoming

Ravallirepublic.com - Full Article

Bill Speltz Aug 5, 2020

MISSOULA — Six weeks after landing in intensive care after being thrown from a green horse, Suzanne Hayes was back in the race Saturday.

The 10 broken ribs and collapsed lung couldn't stop the 66-year-old rural Arlee resident. Neither could the fractured vertebrae or lacerated liver.

Hayes' specialty is all about endurance. Her father, the late Bob Hayes, attained legendary status in Missoula as an endurance runner. His daughter, Suzanne, favors endurance horse races.

On Saturday, Hayes won the 50th annual Big Horn 100 in Shell, Wyoming, in a time of 15 hours and 15 minutes.

"My doctors probably aren't going to be happy to hear I did this, since I was in ICU for five days and the hospital for another 10 after that," she said...

Read more here:

Suzie Hayes and Sanstormm Win Big Horn 100

by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
August 3 2020

In a phenomenal comeback to the saddle, Montana’s Suzanne Hayes, 66, won the 50th anniversary of the Big Horn 100 aboard her half-Arabian Sanstormm in a ride time of 15:15. It was less than 7 weeks ago that Suzy was bucked off a green horse and broke 10 ribs (some in multiple places), punctured a lung, fractured a vertebra, and lacerated her liver. She rode with a protective vest, a crash vest (attached to her saddle so it would inflate if she came off), and a Spot locator.

Suzie was actually second over the finish line by 10 minutes, but the first over the line, Oregon’s Gabriela Blakeley and LLC Pyros Choice, didn’t pulse down to 64 within 30 minutes. This was Sanstormm’s first Big Horn 100 finish.

Rounding out the Top Ten were:
2nd Cameron Holzer and Kong (15:15.02)
3rd Ann Hall on Suzie Hayes’ horse Greenbriar Al Jabal “Atlas” (2012 Big Horn 100 winner)(15:19)
4th Sami Browneller and Annapurna (15:19.02)
5th Vicki Holzer and SW Majestica (15:19.03) (BEST CONDITION)
6th Sanoma Blakeley and OMR Quicksan (15:26)
7th Jeanette Mero and Ozark Kaolena SWA (17:08)
8th Reyna Mero and Vaz Djets On (17:087.01)
9th Heather Reynolds and ASuddenGift MHF (18:10)
10th Melissa Montgomery and Masterful (18:35)

80 started the 100 miler, with 39 finishing.

Hannah Pruss, from South Dakota, and the phenomenal one-eyed Kourageus Hope won the 50-miler in a ride time of 8:00. “Stuart” is a Big Horn fixture, having won the 100-miler three times (2015, 2017, 2018, and Best Condition twice).

20 started the 50 miler, with 15 finishing.

2020 Big Horn 100: 50 Miler on a Gaited Horse - Jessica Isbrecht

by Jessica Isbrecht

River completed the Big Horn 50! She climbed up and down the most intense trail we've ever competed on; gaining 9,000 feet in elevation. For comparison, the hardest 50 we've done previously had about 5,500 feet of elevation gain. I got off and hiked, tailed, or ran as much as I could to help her out.

She was too distracted and hyped up to eat or drink in the first 21 miles but that quickly changed once we started up the mountain in the sun. She chugged along all day putting that big behind to good use! The temperature cooled the higher we climbed. The weather was beautiful! Meanwhile, a nasty storm complete with pea-sized hail blew through camp, pelting Mackenzie and soaking our stuff.

I didn't pack a crew bag for either vet check at 21 and 40 miles. I brought grain that I mixed with water to entice her to drink at the first hold. Then, just let her graze the meadow at the second hold. River loved the grass and spent the entire hour grazing. I made jokes that I was riding the Cavalry Division (a 100 mile division where you complete the ride unaided, carrying all of your gear/food).

We hustled the last 10 miles to make it to the finish ahead of the twelve hour cut off time...


2020 Big Horn 100 - Jeanette Mero

by Jeanette Mero

2020 Big Horn 100! Not even sure where to start or what to say. I know many of our friends have been wondering. Reyna and I, with the help of our awesome family crew, managed to finish both mares in 7th and 8th place a little after midnight with a ride time of 17 plus hours, out of 80 starters from all across the country and against some of the most competitive riders in our sport. It’s almost a toss up in my head whether this ride might be the hardest 100 miler I’ve ever done, on either coast. Even Tevis. It’s close. There was no question it was “real, old school” endurance. And if you had asked me last night at midnight if I’d want to ride another 100 miler any time soon, or even get on the back of a horse in a few days the answer was likely gonna be a NO! It was that kind of hard.

Big Horn was everything it’s reputation was reported to be - incredibly tough, rugged, and remote trail. Climbing up to 9000 plus foot elevations. It’s forest service roads, single tracks, rocks, sand and relentless, literally relentless, up and down climbing from the start all the way to the finish. And we live and train on mountain trails. We experienced the infamous afternoon rain and hail storms getting pelted with dime sized hail on the way into the 3rd vet check, getting so soaked and chilled my arms and hands wouldn’t work for the first half of the hold. We then had to muck our way through slippery mud and rock from all the water, trying to keep the horses from falling on themselves and us. And finally at the end we had to come down a piece they called the “slick rock” at about 95 plus miles into the ride. It was an impressive couple miles of downhill, large sheets of white, ice skating rink, type rock. And that was after finishing the last couple hours in the dark trying to avoid all kinds of trail hazards like deep washes, cattle guards, and ruts that would swallow you and your horse hole...


Rider Profile: Joni Burden

by Nina Bomar

Some may wonder... how does a 26 year old endurance rider have a record of more than 10,000 AERC endurance miles, zero Limited Distance rides and 28  mile completions?? She’s a new mommy, married to a wonderful man who supports her endeavors and she’s a Registered Nurse working in the ICU, where it’s sadly overflowing with COVID patients. This gal is from Alabama and she’s smart, disciplined and mentors others to ride 100 milers!

Her name is Joni Burden and her momma is another rockstar in endurance but for now we’ll focus on her. She’s preparing to make the long journey West to the state of Wyoming to ride the Big Horn 100 miler. I think she’s superhuman and admired her for a long while. When I asked her for an interview, she happily replied... “shoot me your questions and I'll try to find pictures! Or feel free to steal from my Facebook. It'll be the only 2 grey horses”. Joni will be loaning one of those grey horses to her friend and experienced endurance rider Laura Marshall who is from CT region and together they’ll be riding the BH 100...


2020 Big Horn 55/100 Mile Ride COVID Plan and General Information

The 2020 Big Horn 55/100 Mile Ride is currently scheduled for August 1, 2020, in Shell, Wyoming. Exact ride camp coordinates, maps, instructions, crew information, and .gpx coordinates will be sent to pre-paid entrants, volunteers, caterers and veterinary staff by July 24th. Ride camp will NOT open until noon on Wednesday, July 29th. Do not waste time asking.

We will have certain mandatory protocols in place to protect the riders, volunteers, land managers/owners, veterinary staff, caterers and crews. These are non-negotiable and breaking these protocols will be reason alone to remove any rider or crew from the ride without refund or any form of compensation and automatic disqualification from completion.

Do not attend if you are showing any signs of illness including, but not limited to, fever, cough, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or loss smell or taste. Use the hand sanitizer and washing stations available.

Face masks or bandanas must be worn at vet checks, pulse lines and when interacting with volunteers. You will be asked to leave and return when you have a face covering if you show up without one. When you arrive at camp everyone in your party will have their temperature scanned and recorded and you will be given a wrist band that must be worn at all times.

There will be handheld equine heart monitors for the volunteers and vets to use generously donated by Performix Supplements. They will be disinfected between horses. There will also be stethoscopes available for rider use and there will be wipes for disinfecting these, also. There will be sanitation stations available for everyone including hand washing and wipes. Social distancing will be enforced in vet lines and checks and will be using the following AERC recommendations.

- Each competing horse shall be accompanied throughout the Vet Check by only ONE person, handler, or rider. That individual must wear a mask.

 - Social distancing standards shall be observed between all persons within the Vet Check area, as much as is practicable; 

- Veterinarians and their scribes may wear masks; 

- Ride management will ensure hand sanitizer is available to all vets and scribes to be 
used between every horse/rider team. 

All entrants will have been pre-entered and pre-paid minimizing contact with volunteers. All registration, including waiting lists, will be permanently shut down on July 17th at midnight. As at the recent successful City of Rocks ride in Idaho, vet cards will not be used. Information will be recorded by veterinarians and volunteers.

There will be porta-potties in camp and at vet checks. Use at your own risk. We cannot clean and sterilized between each user.

All participants are asked to maintain social distancing of not less than 6 feet. We realize how difficult this can be for all of us. Help us ensure the event will be allowed to proceed.

The following meals will be catered and available:
Friday evening, individually prepared pizzas by 307 Pizza, Liz Campbell. Saturday morning at first vet check there will be individually prepared cold breakfast containers provided and donated by Jennifer Kaplan. Please, thank her. Saturday afternoon, hot dogs and fixings provided by Big Horn Co-op (Also providing our horse water tanks and water for the final vet checks, please give them a special thanks)

Sunday morning awards ceremony breakfast with coffee and juice, breakfast burritos and fruit provided by Liz Campbell

If you are not comfortable eating any of these meals or they do not meet your dietary requirements, we totally understand. In that case, you will be expected to provide your own meals. Follow your conscience. Between COVID regulations and the unusually large number of entrants from all over the country, few people were interested in providing meals. There will be “people” bottled water and electrolyte supplements at all vet checks along with horse water and lots of grass. Other than what is listed here, plan to be self-sufficient and contained. This is a remote location with few amenities.

Be sure to tank up your fuel before you arrive in camp. The closest gasoline or diesel will be 20 miles to the East in Greybull or 32 mountainous miles to the West on top of the mountain at Burgess Junction. It is very unlikely that you will have any cell service or internet for most of the ride including camp. The ride will have satellite phones at the camp and vet checks for our communication. I always recommend that riders consider using a SPOT or Garmin InReach or other emergency satellite device and having emergency air ambulance insurance. This is not to frighten anyone, it’s just practical in remote areas. There will be no power at the camp except for Ride Management’s generators. We will have a brief ride meeting on Friday evening and we will have a microphone/speaker to ensure everyone can hear while social distancing. Bring your own chairs and keep at least 6 feet apart from people not in your group. Sunday morning at 10:00 am we will have our breakfast and awards ceremony. Again, a microphone will be used. Awards will be laid out for people to pick up as their name is called. Bring your own chairs. Seating should continue to be with social distancing of at least 6 feet. No awards will be given out to anyone under any circumstances unless they attend the award ceremony. If for some unforeseen reason you choose to leave early, either have a friend pick up your award or expect to pay to have it shipped to you within 30 days. This ceremony is important and as a matter of respect for the brave riders and horses who challenge this legendary trail, you should be there to honor them all.

Dogs: I love dogs. I have had dogs all of my life. However, endurance riders are infamous for allowing rude behavior with their dogs. All dogs should be on leash at all times. Frankly, this is not the best venue for dogs. It will be very hot in ride camp and this ride has livestock, deer, elk, moose, antelope, various rabbits, coyotes, bears, etc. to encounter. Last year another rider had to bury a dog that died from overheating due to owner stupidity. There is no place on this ride for your dog to be loose and safe. You can be disqualified and asked to leave over a loose or obnoxious dog. No one wants your dog urinating on their expensive hay, bothering their horse or sniffing their food. Parking space and room for pens will be very limited with our large number of entrants. Do not expect to have giant electric pens for your horses. Also, we may come by and test your fence to be sure it is on. A loose horse in this country is dangerous to everyone, especially the horse. Cliffs, canyons, deep gullies, old barbed wire and predators are unforgiving as are local land owners if your loose horse damages their fence or other property.

A final note: It is an honor and privilege to have so many of you coming to experience this amazing and legendary trail. It is also a huge responsibility during this COVID crisis to host this event and to humbly accept the generosity of our land owners/managers, volunteers, caterers, sponsors and veterinarians. With that said, this is not any other endurance ride you may normally attend. No rider and no crew has any standing higher than the rider who is starting their first 55 or 100 miler with us. Everyone is on equal footing at the Big Horn 100. Make sure everyone with you realizes that fact. A certain pioneering, adventurous spirit along with gratitude and humility will go far with our local community and volunteers. Whining, gossiping or complaining is not only frowned upon, it is unlikely to help your cause. We have very limited volunteers and resources. Most of our volunteers are busting their rear and doing multiple jobs. You signed up to endure. Expect to do so. Cindy

Tackling the Big Horn 100 - by Merri Melde

July 18 2018

The 6 Idahoans - me (on Dezzie), Connie (on cover boy DWA Saruq), Layne (on Harley), Shyla (on Doc), and Anne (on DWA Nadra) - with Commander Rose (Regina Rose, 12-time finisher of the Big Horn 100) headed to Wyoming for the Big Horn 100 with hopes for a clean-sweep finish. Only Layne had ridden and finished this ride before, a few years ago when she was caught up on the mountain in the dark in a storm where she almost froze to death before finding her way off the mountain to the finish line.

We'd all heard the stories of how tough the ride was (Regina provided us with plenty of tall tales from the good ol' days), so we were prepared for a doozer of a trail, with some fit and ready horses.

But before we settled into the hot ridecamp in Shell, Wyoming, at the foot of the Big Horn mountains, we got to spend a couple of days in the lap of luxury with Regina's friends, Tom and Fawn, in their AIR CONDITIONED HOUSE, with SHOWERS and MORNING COFFEE WITH THE PRESS OF A BUTTON, where we heard even more entertaining tall ride tales.

Regina was our Wonder Crew and Commander in Chief, and we did whatever she said. On Thursday she hauled us out to ride the first 8 miles of trail that we'd be zipping over in the dark, and she drove her trailer far up a sketchy road to pick us up. Since Regina remembers every single turn and bush and tree and fence line on that Big Horn trail, she told us what to watch out for over every few miles (as if we'd remember): "When you get up there past that hill (WHAT hill???), you'll see a clump of trees (there's trees everywhere!!!), you skirt the edge of those trees, then turn right and go down that hill (WHAT hill???) and angle to your left (HOW FAR angle!?!?). There's this big rock (WHICH rock????) there that you can't miss, and…." etc.

She drilled us to walk where we had to and haul buns when we didn't have to walk. We packed extra clothes and snacks and drugs (ibuprofen, dramamine, tums) in our saddle bags. And we all said Yes Ma'am, and did what she said. (She also took us Idaho tourists to see the bird dinosaur footprints, and to Tom and Fawn's A&W where I had my first-ever root beer float.)

And - seriously - the way that woman can pack a sh*tload of crew gear for 4 people!!!!!!!!! (Shyla's husband and daughter came to crew for her, so they packed her stuff). And then unpack it and re-pack it at every vet check!!!! I still have not learned how to use those ratchet trucker straps, can't put them on nor get them off.

Starting time came way too early Saturday morning - 4 AM - especially when my alarm didn't go off at the intended 3:00 AM and I woke at 3:08. Connie and I popped right out of our sleeping bags and staggered up and into ride clothes and tried to fumble in the right directions of coffee and food and horse tack.

The start was smooth and efficient, and Dezzie found himself in the lead of our group, happily winging along at a smart clip like he'd been born for the Big Horn trail his whole life. We found ourselves right with the other Idahoan, Tom Noll (back for his 10th Big Horn ride), and that's how it stayed pretty much the entire ride.

Dezzie led most of the way to the trot-by at 14 miles, where we all took a short break because, of course, Regina met us with water and horse food. Then we started heading up the Dugway into the mountains.

Hitting this area at 6 AM - instead of 9 AM in the heat like the 50's did on Friday - was just perfect - good light for the spectacular scenery and cool air for the hard-working horses. It would be another 20 miles or so to the top of the mountain (after going way up and way down and way up and way down and…. you get it) for the first vet check at around 34 miles. Since we had all been sufficiently frightened about doing the Shag Nasty in the dark some 16 or so hours from now, we had plenty of Shag Nasty jokes to keep us entertained.

It was at about mile 17ish when Dezzie did his own Shag Nasty. Power walking up the Dugway, one hind foot then the other stepped on a granite slickrock, and not one but both hind legs just slipped out from under him so that he ended up in a Shag Nasty Pistol Squat (said Layne), with both his hind legs splayed back. Dezzie had pulled off the perfect Devon Loch move (the Queen Mother's horse Devon Loch was about to win the 1956 Grand National Steeplechase, when he inexplicably leapt an imaginary fence 40 yards from the finish line and went down in a Shag Nasty squat on his belly, legs splayed - and lost the race before he could get up).

I froze… should I leap off? Should I sit still???? Dezzie wasn't flailing, so I did not breathe nor move a muscle, and from behind, Connie watched as it took a tremendous effort for him to lift up and get his hind legs back up underneath him. He walked out of it fine, continued up and up and up the hill, and at the next trotting spot he felt just fine…. and we continued on. It did make me think of how far back in there on the trails that one could get, and then have a looooooong way to go and a possibly looooooooong wait if anybody got hurt. But then, we could all just sit on our couches where we are safe from crashes, and all have heart attacks instead, or a meteor fall out of the sky on our heads. So we might as well be out riding in the Big Horns!

Once we got to the top of the Dugway…. it was back down and down, and back up and down and up and down. One of the canyons was one steep rocky climb down and one long hard steep rocky climb up, where all the horses had to take several breathers just walking up. We crossed fabulous meadows with showy wildflowers. The horses had plenty of grass to grab while walking, even wild alfalfa.

The trail was excellently marked for this first loop… Cindy Collins gets the honor of riding and marking this one. We never had a question where to go, although we did have tour guide Tom Noll with us, and he knows the trail.

When we 'topped out' on the mountain for the 3rd or 4th time, we actually recognized "that fence line" (and even recognized it from the opposite direction!) from the driving tour Regina had given us on Friday, and we knew we were really just a couple of miles from the first vet check. We flew along the two-track road up there and arrived a bit after 10 AM, right about the time Regina expected us (the cooler weather from starting earlier in the morning had helped us cruise right along). We made good time, as we were only an hour behind the leaders, Suzy Hayes (on Sandstormm) and Hannah Johnson (riding Stuart).

The Idaho horses all looked great for their vet check. Dezzie's pulse was 52 (criteria 64) and he got all A's, and he ate the entire hour hold. Riders all felt pretty good too. Regina and Dennis and Jade had of course set the horse and human smorgasbord out for us, ready to walk up to and serve ourselves whatever we wanted.

Next was down, down, down for miles, gentle downhill miles on the 2-track road to the highway crossing and ski area. Now, Dezzie is a powerful, effortless mover (and pretty - we call him a Breyer model), but one thing he is NOT, is smooth. Particularly downhill. Uphill - fine; flat - can be a bit rough; downhill - lordamercy. And it was miles and miles of LORDAMERCY, and we were all cruising, making up time for those walking miles ahead.

My stirrups were half a hole too long, but that was better than half a hole too short, and I didn't want to drill another hole in Connie's saddle stirrup leathers. I'd had many training rides on Dezzie, and a 55-mile ride at City of Rocks last month, so I knew this position was the best choice.

However, it took a lot of my energy to stay centered and balanced on this Big Mover, my feet were aching and going to sleep, and my left foot banging into the outside of the stirrup, none of which I could relieve no matter what I tried while flying along; and I was starting to think, hmm, we are at about 40 miles, and with 60 more miles to go on this horse I think I'm going to die before the finish line… and right about then, I thought I started feeling a little 'extra roughness' - that's how I can look back and describe it. At times I thought I felt Dezzie slightly off behind, then he definitely wasn't; the road was uneven, and he still felt powerful, and maybe he was a bit off in the left front, but then he definitely wasn't.

Regina and Lynn Rigney and Dennis and Jade met us at a few places on the road to offer us water, and Dezzie felt fine each time we started off again trotting. But I kept thinking he was taking some slightly off steps. It was after we had a short steep rocky trail short-cut off and back to the road, where we walked, I told Connie I thought I felt something might be off, and when we got back onto the road, she followed and watched, and at the trot that time I immediately felt him off in the right hind.

Regina met us once more before we climbed a big hill then dropped down another steep long one to the highway, and I told her my horse was off and I was pulling. Too bad, but I wouldn't consider trying to go another 60 miles on a horse that was not 100%, not even on an 'easy' 100 mile ride, and certainly not a hard mountain ride. If I had 5 miles to go, and had no choice but to handwork into the finish anyway, maybe he could have been finessed in, but that wasn't the case. Besides, I was close to a good stopping point where I could get a quicker trailer ride back to base camp.

Connie and I cruised on the mile or so to the ski area (I didn't want her to get left behind from our group, I didn't want to try to handwalk an abandoned Dezzie to the ski area), and other than feeling just a bit rougher, Dezzie no longer felt off, but no way was I going to attempt the next 25 mile loop to the next vet check and hope everything would turn out all rosy.

The trailer did indeed come just as the Idahoans headed off into the trees. Dezzie only had time to whinny a couple of times and not-quite-freak-out before I loaded him in the trailer and we pulled out. Regina had, of course, thought to hand off to me from her crew truck my backpack, some food and iced coffee :) :) :), since I'd be in basecamp till our riders hopefully got back from the finish line (from where they had to be hauled in to camp) in another 14 hours or so!

Yes, sad I didn't finish the Big Horn 100, but not devastatingly sad, because I caught Dezzie's lameness very early and he will be fine, we got a quick and easy trailer ride back to camp, and I was not going to be physically beat up for another 60 miles and 14 or so hours and therefore be crawling in pain for the next several days. Plus, I was blessed with cloud cover and a strong breeze in base camp, so it was not excruciatingly hot like it had been the previous day.

I also felt rather privileged to be in fairly elite company… AERC Hall of Famer Suzy Hayes, who'd been in the lead leaving vet check 1, had decided her horse just did not feel quite right, and she turned around and came back to the vet check and pulled her horse. Suzy's one of my heroes, and if she can make a decision like that, for the good of her horse, and I can do the same thing, I must be on the right path to endurance enlightenment.

And so my ride ended, quite literally, because we had no news of anything, other than my Idaho peeps were still out on trail, till around 2 AM when I heard Layne arrive back at her trailer next door. She and Shyla had finished and had just been hauled back to base camp from the finish line, both wiped out after being barfing sick coming down the mountain, but they'd finished with Tom Noll. Yay! Shortly behind them Connie and Anne had finished, Yay!, and they arrived on the next trailer ride back in camp.

Everybody fell into bed for a few hours until the sun was up and blazing at 7 AMish, at which time a very simple awards meeting was held, with not all the finishers not quite making it out of bed to attend.

And so Idaho came and mostly conquered the Big Horn 100, with the inevitable after-effects. Coming down the mountain in the dark at 2 AM, Connie was thinking, "I'm never doing this ride again. I don't even know if I want to do endurance anymore."

But, kinda like birthing a baby, after several cups of morning coffee (made by me, the Coffee Director), after the awards, and after more AIR CONDITIONING, a shower, and a fabulous Tom-cooked-with-endurance-love breakfast at Tom and Fawn's, Connie thought she just might come back and ride the Big Horn 100 next year.

Hannah Johnson and her amazing one-eyed Kourageus Hope, aka Stuart, won the 100 - for the third time - and got Best Condition - for the second time. (Hannah also tied for first on the 50 on Friday!) Hannah posted, "This horse gave me his heart and his complete trust this bighorn 100, the mountain humbled us and the loss of his eye proved to be a thing coming down the slick rock in the dark… We finished to a cheering crew and a crying rider…" 14 of the 18 starters finished.

The Big Horn is in my top 3 of most beautiful rides (with Moab and Eastern High Sierra Classic), and in my top 3 of hardest rides (with Tevis and Virginia City), and - like any mountain ride - you come prepared with the right horse. Don't come if you are not fit - you won't be doing your horse any favors. Don't even bring a horse that's not fit. And there's no dinking around on this trail - prepare to ride. Bring the right gear, and be prepared to take care of yourself and your horse if anything happens, and you'll be ahead of the game, even if you don't finish the ride.

from Merri Thursday at the Big Horn 100:

after a Layne misshap, where she got to spend a night with a junkyard dog and a skunk at an auto repair shop in Idaho Falls last night after a breakdown, we took her horse and got to Regina's friends in Greybull around 1:30 (an 8 hr drive that took only about 14 hours :) where we set up shop, and are enjoying their AIR CONDITIONED HOUSE, and Layne joined us later today.

This morning the 4 of us pre-rode the start.

Here's some pix... might be all till after the ride, no cell/internet at ridecamp or on the trail.

more later!

Our Big Horn 100 adventure 2016 - Katrin Levermann

Part 1

It all started with our rather disappointing experience at Tevis last year.Vickie said to us, come and ride the Big Horn with me in 2016. You guys got the horses for it ! ....and so we started planning…

Begin of the summer it was decided that only Anya will ride with me. Katya had other plans for that time and lend her horse Draco to Anya, since Anya’s horse Tootsie was rehabbing from a suspensory injury. My friend and college Stefanie wanted to come with us to help. And then Regina contacted me, offering to crew for us… how exciting was that?! Things started to fall into places!

We departed at 7am on July 3rd and made it to the border at 3pm with one rest stop for the horses in between. After getting all the necessary groceries in Omak we pulled into Tiffany’s and Bill’s place in Coulee City, WA at 7:30pm. What a great place for a layover. The horses were so happy to stretch their legs. On the next day we made it all the way to Karen and Delmer’s place near Bozeman, MT. Again, our horses had the luxury of having their own pasture for the night. We enjoyed the hospitality of our friends over a Mexican dinner and Karen’s favorite Margarita’s. The evening went by way too fast.

The next morning we took our time, knowing that we only had about 5 more hours to drive. We arrived on Vickie and Dave’s place in Lowell, WY at 4:30pm. Vickie had already two corrals prepared and our horses were happy to roll in the sand. We spend a wonderful dinner with our friends, discussing our plans for the upcoming ride.

The horses got a rest the next day, while we went to visit the Yellowstone Park...

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Wild and Rugged – 2016 Big Horn 100 by Tom Noll

Wild and Rugged – 2016 Big Horn 100

My Big Horn 100 story really starts about two weeks before the ride when I was contacted by someone who I did not know, who wanted to ride one of my horses, a horse that she had never met or ridden, on the Big Horn 100 trail, a trail that she had never seen, for her first 100-mile completion. What would you do?

Me, I checked her AERC record (lightweight rider, nearly 5000 miles, with a high completion rate). I thought about her request. And, after a day or so, I wrote back to say “yes.”

I hoped to take my two horses to the 2016 Big Horn 100. Both horses are Big Horn 100 veterans and both are tough. They run well together and they had both demonstrated their fitness and competence at the Strawberry Fields ride in Utah three weeks before the Big Horn. However, I did not have a rider for my horse Rocky. One afternoon at Strawberry, I discreetly mentioned that I might be interested in finding a lightweight, competent rider for the Big Horn 100 to one of my friends.

Now, Whiskey, the wild mustang, and Rocky, the Craigslist Arabian, were off to Wyoming together. My friend Cindy, who was my partner on the 2011 XP and who helped Whiskey and me finish the 2014 Big Horn 100, had made arrangements to fly to Boise from Vermont and help me with the 2016 Big Horn 100.

I made some repairs to my van after driving to Utah and back for Strawberry. My two horses were fit. I had a crew. I had a partner for the ride. We were ready and drove east to Wyoming.

The Big Horn 100 is my favorite ride. I am one of the lucky ones who has ridden both the traditional trail and many of the trail variations that are used today. I miss the traditional trail and I know that efforts are underway to address the regulatory issues and reinstate the traditional trail to Adelaide Lake from Shell Creek. My personal opinion is that the traditional trail was about two or three hours faster than today’s trail. The trail used today, and specifically the trail used in 2016, is as difficult as any 100-mile trail offered on the AERC calendar. A Big Horn 100 finish on the modern trail is possible with a fit horse, but there is almost no extra time to allow for unexpected difficulties on the trail...

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