Raptor Run 2011

My partner in life and best buddy picked out this ride months ago. She said we were going. One day rides hundreds of miles away are not high on my list but if Moma isn’t happy, well you know what I mean?

I have a points thing going on with my main twh mare Kate. So, I got her ready. Then she found a piece of wire 10 days pre race and got it wrapped around a front leg. Vet time and no race. Another competitor bought Niki, so she was race ready but not with me any more. Blues was not in the right cycle of training. Jazz, a 6 year old twh mare had been raced at 50 miles in September but pretty gently so she was my next choice.

The race director was Jody Buttram. She is an experienced competitor, who is an internet friend of mine and with whom I have ridden with before in southern rides. Raptor Run is in the William B. Bankhead National Forrest. To say this is an “old growth forest” is like saying Tevis is a trail ride. You have a feeling here that you are riding in something special and that you and your horse might just get eaten by some creature at any time.

There are no campgrounds available for the big rigs, so camping was in a big beautiful freshly mowed cow field. The horses loved the grass in that field. 61 horses showed up and 30 of those were in the 50. The first mile of the ride was controlled on a down hill gravel road. Then the lead rider, on a fine Spanish mustang politely said, “the trail is open” and bedlam in-sued. Sandy was riding her MFT mare Savanah who was in her first 50 mile event. To meet Sandy you would be convinced that she was the shyest and most demur southern lady you have ever met. Well, let’s put it this way; Don’t be standing in her way when someone says “the trail is open”. Sandy and Savanah went out with the leaders and I tried to keep a handle on Jazz.

Jazz was a bit concerned by the numerous Arabians running by her at a cantor or gallop or extended trot. Today was going to be a training day for Jazz and I wanted her far away from what I call “race brain”. We settled in mid pack and racked away.

Jazz eating up the road

The first loop was the most wonderful riding loop for a gaited horse I can imagine. Open enough to rack on, but rocky creeks and some trail debris that the trotting horses had to slow down. With one foot down all the time in a racking gait or three feet down in a running walk, Jazz cruised through the trail. She worked her way from around 15th place to around 6th by the end of the first 17 miles. We caught Sandy and Savanah and came into camp together. The horses where great through the vet check but Jazz had one loose shoe and one missing shoe. A short 40 minute hold meant the farrier cost me at least 10 minutes extra on my out time.

We watched our GPS and heart rate monitors closely and went racking down the second loop. It also featured a 1 1/3 mile gravel road beginning. Sandy, who is at times a little more cautious than I am by nature started to worry that Savanah was getting tired half way through the second loop. This loop was the most beautiful trail I have encountered in an AERC ride. Yes, you heard me right. This was the mother lode. It was single track trail through old growth forest. Giant trees with giant silver leafs stood guard as you wound through rock formations. I kept expecting a dinosaur to step out from behind a rock formation. Jody had told us in the ride meeting that their were wild hogs and mountain lions, and this place had the feel of a creature watching you.

Jazz gaiting up hill while looking for Raptors!

The trail became smooth and fast. The pace picked up and I asked Jazz to rack on. Savannah followed most of the way but did lead some. At a few hundred yards from the vet check, we got off and walked the horses in. Jazz has an amazing heart. Her resting heart rate is 36 and just like the first vet check, she was down to at least 64 beats as I walked her up to the vet check without removing the saddle or sponging her. Savanah was down quickly but the vet said her gut sounds were quiet, so we needed to put more food to her and bring her back to be checked again before going out for the last loop. Both horses ate well but the short hold time of 40 minutes and the need to have the vet listen to her sounds again made fore another late start.

Sandy was now worried and was wanting to slow down for the last loop. The last loop was the same as the 2nd loop with the addition of another 3/4 of a mile of gravel road in the beginning. Savanah had Sandy convinced she was tired. I stayed with Sandy and Savanah until several riders had passed us and we had dropped out of the top ten. Sandy then said, “I want you to go on!”. I said no. She said yes. She said yes more emphatically. She used logic and said, “Nothing is wrong with this horse, and you would send me on!”. I went ,but then stopped to wait again. I was now in 11th place. Sandy announced clearly that she did not want me waiting on her anymore. So, I went. Between the trail riders and the number checkers I found out that Jazz and I were between 30 seconds and 4 minutes out of 10th place. We kept having to slow down for the numerous trail riders, but that is just part of the day and you have to deal with it. You have to do it with it with a mind to promote endurance.

I decided that the trail was too fast to catch the 10th place rider and I just needed to enjoy the rest of the ride. I felt sure I was 30 minutes at least in front of Sandy. With about 3 miles to the finish, I heard a noise and 4 young women came flying up to me on extended trots. Jazz went into the most even 4 beat rack and kept in front of them. I asked over my shoulder if they had seen Sandy and her big MFT mare. They said, yes, she is right on our tail!

Savanah had been dogging it and just needed some flying Arabians to give her a mental boost up. I knew I could not keep ahead of the Arabians in a drag race up the last 1 1/3 gravel road as I do not gallop Jazz. So I worked her through the corners, where she is very nimble and opened up a lead on the 4 Arabians and Sandy. By the time I started up the hill I was far enough ahead that I could not Sandy or the Arabs. I watched the GPS and the heart rate monitor. We were moving well and her heart rate stayed between 115 and 145. depending upon the grade. With about 800 yards to the finish line, I heard a galloping hoard of Arabians coming up on me. Then they were beside me, then they were gone in a cloud of dust. I was surprised but not shocked. What did shock me was that tucked in right behind them was Sandy and Savanah.

Sandy gave me a look that we are still discussing at home. Let me just say that it was very “Lance Armstrong like”. You know the look that seems to say, “how do you like me now?” She pulled ahead and beat me by a horse length through the finish line. I was very proud of her. Savanah was 15th and Jazz was 16th.

Sandy and Savanah got the first mare award which was an extremely nice engraved silver plate. Jazz got the first TWH award which was a very nice TWH coffee table book that I had been thinking about buying for a while. The ride then fed us ribeye sandwiches and we had a great professional country singer entertain us. Let me say that some female endurance riders can really dance when they get enthused.

1st place was Karen Dely on her Arabian. Let me say that Karen was one of those dancers previously mentioned. BC was Steve Huffman on his Spanish mustang. The ride featured Arabians, Arabian Standardbred crosses, TWHs, MFTs, Paso Finos, Quarter horses, a warm blood, etc.

1st in the LD, was Eddie Edwards and BC was famous ride vet Ike Nelson. This was Ike’s 8th consecutive BC. Way to go Ike!

We will go back, as this is not only on our list for next year, it is our favorite ride that we have ever done. The trails are wonderful, the people are fantastic and the memories are truly heartfelt.

In trying to determine what made this ride so special I interviewed Jody Rogers-Buttram the ride manager.

1Q. Jody, what possessed you to step up and manage a ride?

Answer: Not really sure, but maybe some strange insect bit me while I was sleeping at another ride. Like a RM bug bite??? I have a great National Forest in my backyard, and this particular forest has been the site of past endurance rides. They started back in the early 70’s, and ran through about 1992. Then the ride just fell apart. Mainly because we didn’t have a campsite that was large enough to accommodate the big rigs of today. I lucked out when Ronnie Alexander walked into my office one day, and I discovered he had a 120 acre farm….right next to the horse trails.

2Q. How is it possible you have a daughter the same age as you?

A.She just aged quickly and I stopped aging, secret of using Raptor Pee as a wrinkle cream.

3.Q Why did you name your ride “Raptor Run”?

A.There are places in the Bankhead National Forest that look as if you have stepped back millions of year with the plants and rock formations. Some places (which the ride didn’t get to see) has areas of eroded rock forming ‘culverts’ in the stone that are large enough to ride through with just a slight opening at the top for the limited sunlight to reach through. Misty, mysterious, and other world like, and possibly harboring such creatures as Raptors.

4. Q Do the Raptors eat the wild pigs?

A. The forest service wished that they did….but alas, to this day, the pig population has still managed to climb in spite of the presence of raptors and mountain lions.

5. Q What were the giant leaves on the ground that were silver on their back size and appeared “horse eating” to some of the ponies?

A. Not sure what the true scientific name is for those, but for years, we (my family) have referred to them as “umbrella trees”. The do work well if caught out in a rain, to shed some of the water off of you.

6. Q The trails were immaculate, how did you do that?

A. I am a trail fairy???? No, the Back Country Horseman of the this area worked very hard to clear away about 20 downed trees from tornado and wind damage. They even went out on Friday and cleared one more that I discovered while marking trails. Other than that, I removed many of the “tripping rocks” and sticks/logs/roots by hand while jogging and marking trails.

7. Q This ride featured the most eclectic assortment of horse breeds in the years we have been riding AERC rides. How do you account for this?

A. Years ago when I first started endurance, 1979, we had a much more varied group of horse breeds represented. So, I decided that I wanted this ride to be “different, more fluff and lot’s of extras”. One way was to encourage different breeds to come and do the ride. Many people that are getting into the sport of endurance think that they must have an Arab or part Arab to compete. Simply not true. I have seen QHs, TWHs, Mustangs, Morgans, Appys kick Arab butt over the years. So, I promoted my ride as a ride to bring what you own, ride the ride and get an award for such a breed if you finish. As a result, I had Appys, Morgan, Spanish Mustang, TWH, Missouri Fox Trotter, QHs, Paso Finos and even one Warmblood enter the ride. And most of them placed very well. And maybe I even managed to recruit some new distance riders in the process.

8. Q There were no mules or TBs in the 61 horses at the ride. Could they be afraid of raptors, or maybe wild hogs, or is it mt. lions?

A. All of the above. The mule people stayed home knowing that their mount would have spent all it’s time trying to stomp the hog, lion or raptor. The TB people stayed home because they knew their horses would simply try to out sprint the hog, lion or raptor. And the trails are just not made for a dead run. 😉 Maybe next year we will see a mule, we own an arab mule….Joni will want to ride her in the ,I am sure.

9. Q How did you get professional live entertainment from a man who could not only sing and play but shoe a horse?

A. You left out “look totally hot while doing so”. Connections. Being a farrier myself, we tend to know each other, plus he is also close kin to the endurance rider Bud Davidson. And he (Joseph) also agrees with me, that Marty (who I purchased from Bud) is the best horse Bud ever owned, and he thinks Marty is the most loved horse in the world too.

10. Q Great breed awards, silver plates, how did you get silver engraved plates?

A. Ah, can’t give away all my secrets, but will say this, just some smart thinking, planning ahead and wanting to have the awards leave an impression.

11. Q What did you learn and what were you surprised at?

A. I learned that I * can * still run…for miles without getting tired, although if I were a rat, I would have long since gnawed my leg off above the knee. That if you plan ahead carefully, then surround yourself by the best people, things will work out. I know that I am already planning for next year and some improvements. I think I was most surprised that people really liked my trails, to me they are boring, but we see them all the time. I suppose if you are surrounded by beauty all the time, you begin to take it totally for granted.

Rack on my friends, eh, well the rest of you can trot on.
Shawnee Sunrise Farm

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