Land of the Sun Endurance Ride

I mark horse butts and time in the riders.

Yesterday was the Wickenburg Horsemen’s Association’s annual Land of the Sun Endurance Ride. And, for the fourth year in a row, I was one of about 80 volunteers enlisted to help out and make the event run smoothly.

For those of you who don’t know what an endurance ride is, our endurance ride is a 25- or 50-mile horseback ride over trails in the Wickenburg area. Endurance riders — people who actually like to cover that many miles on horseback — come from all over the southwest to participate.

The trails are created or maintained and then marked with ribbons by volunteers organized by Robin Ollendick and Nancy Halsey, who manage the whole thing. There are two loops, each of which are 25 miles long. The 25-milers do one loop and the 50-milers do both. There are vet checks, water stops, and check points along the way. There’s food and beverages for riders and horses at the vet checks and riders are required to spend a certain minimum amount of time at each one to ensure the health and well-being of their horses. There are drag riders who follow the last group out and remove the ribbons.

It’s a big deal and a great western event. This year, we started out with 148 riders. A few were pulled early on or on the trail for various reasons — for example, a problem with a horses’s gait or a horse “tying up” — but the vast majority finished their courses.

As a volunteer, I had three official jobs.

The first, on Friday, was to use “paint sticks” to mark numbers on horse butts. Each horse had a number and the number had to be visible by the folks at the check points so each rider could be tracked through the course. We used yellow, pink, or green markers to put the numbers on. The markers are similar to Cray-pas — soft crayon-like markers I used as a kid. But they’re fat — at least an inch and a quarter in diameter — and they’re a pain in the butt (no pun intended) to get off your skin and out from under your nails.

My second job was to make the vegetarian bean soup I make every year for the lunch stop. A lot of the riders are vegetarians and it seems that most other people put some kind of meat in their soups or chilis. I make it without any meat at all. The flavor comes from the root vegetables I include — onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips — as well as celery and leeks. I got it cooking in our camper, which we parked at the rodeo grounds (It’s for sale and we wanted to show it off to potential buyers.), on Saturday and it was ready just in time for lunch.

My third job was to work with Janet, timing in the riders. The first 50-milers, who had left at about 7:00 AM (before dawn!), started showing up at 9:45 AM. That’s 25 miles in 2 hours and 45 minutes. On horseback. Janet wrote down numbers and times on a clipboard while I handed out check in slips with numbers and times. The 50-milers were required to wait for a hour after their horses “pulsed down” before leaving on their second loop. The 25 milers didn’t get check in slips, but they did get champagne. By 1:30, the 50-milers were coming back from their second loop. Janet and I were relieved at 2 PM, when all the excitement was pretty much over.

I didn’t take any pictures yesterday. I was too busy with my jobs. But if Janet sends photos of the winners, I’ll insert them here.

The big surprise: the winner for the 25-milers was a rider on a mule!

What do you think?