Gaited Endurance in Really High Heat– Dead Dog Creek 2016

Honey at start

Dead Dog Creak 2016

I started Endurance on this course 11 years ago. It is the closest ride to where I live and I want to support he Mowrer family in their selfless commitment to the sport of endurance, so I always try and make the ride.

It is extremely technical , but not as tough as the Shawnee National Forest and that is where we ride almost every week. Technical courses are the best on for the gaited horses that we train and compete. We have the horse version of a 4 wheel drive and because our horses don’t have a time of “suspension” when all 4 feet are off the ground at the same time.  The horses have “gaits” and that usually mean a running walk, a racking gait and a canter.  Our really top horses, that are mature, also have a gallop. We use our knowledge of the horse, the gps watch, and a heart rate monitor to know when to switch  gaits.

Sandy , my hero of a wife, was in Seattle with grand babies so I got to prep for this solo. Fortunately, I had a friend named David and a friend named Kelley who wanted to crew and a friend named Gaby who also wanted to compete. Gaby has one of the 18 twhs who have successfully completed a 24 hour 100 mile aerc ride. Her mare, Cheyenne, is a muscled racking machine.

Gaby and Cheyenne

Gaby and Cheyenne


My top mare,Kate, just had a foal, so I was set to take my next best horse who is a twh mare named Southern Honey. Honey is an unregistered TWH mare, but I bought her because of her fine racking movement and I thought I instantly recognized her bloodlines from that movement and her build. I thought, and still think, that she is what is known as a “Pusher “bred mare.

That means she is athletic, quick, but emotional. She is the third of this type of TWH mare I have trained out of that line and they have all been like that. The other two both took BC’s before they went to live elsewhere. Honey might end up being the best horse I have trained. The trick with this bloodline, if I can draw a conclusion from a sample size of three horses, is that the emotional training can take more work than the physical training time.

Gaby and Honey Trot out   The “trot out” is always a challenge for most of our gaited horses if they are square moving. They seem to think, “I can do a running walk faster than you are running , so what is the point of our getting really animated ??” It would kind of be like you getting up in the middle of the night to go the bath room and doing the “Monty Python Silly Walk ” as you go down your hall.  Here, Gaby runs out my my Honey horse and Honey invents a new way moving in the process.

I started watching the predicted weather. It was looking horrible. It was going to be over 90 degrees and humid. The trail at Dead Dog has the unique capability of being both concrete hard and then also being shoe sucking wet because some areas really never dry out. When the course is really wet, you may have to swim a creek.

When you are spouseless, working a full time day gig, have to deal with 10 horses, chickens, hay, broken tractors, a farrier and a vet for coggins, life becomes challenging. Add to the mix having to get trailer work done and I found myself napping in the middle of the day on my desk. It sure makes one appreciate their spouse!

I took a mft mare named Gypsy that I am heading toward endurance for David to ride on the course before the race and also to expose to the ride camp and race activity before she was to be actually competed. The ride camp offers electricity but the water is not at the individual camp spots. Time to carry buckets. I was a bit concerned about Cheyenne with the coming heat. She has a perfect 50 mile record but she is a well muscled mare. Hot is hot no matter how good the horse.

Cheyenne’s chest is about twice as wide as Honeys chest.

The night before was interesting. David saddled up Gypsy and took off to do the 15 mile loop. I have ridden the horse as far as 18 miles and the trail was well marked. I get a notice on my phone 1 ½ hours later that David had called. Gaby got the same notice. We neither one got a message. I immediately tried to call back. The phone went immediately to voice mail. I texted. I called more times. I got nothing. I started to worry. After all, I thought, he would not call just to say he was having a good time. Something was wrong. It had to be. The best possibility was that he was lost. I put a GPS watch on him, marked the camp and he knew how to use the watch. He is an engineer and an inventor. I try and use almost every Saturday ride as a GPS learning situation and he is a part of those rides. I start worrying a bit. I had Gaby saddle up Cheyenne and go backwards on the course but told her no more than 3 miles out before she turned. I spotted a park ranger, and talked him into coming back in a few minutes. He did, and then took me to his side by side 4×4. I told ride management what was happening and off we went in opposite of directions. Six miles into the 4×4 ride, Gaby texted and said David was back over 3 hours after he left.

Time to feed, be grateful my friend was OK and found and get some sleep.

Darrick and LydiaThe King family from northern Indiana with their two TWHs . They rode the LD.

We were off at day break and 15 minutes after the LD riders. We caught them pretty quickly. We started at the back and Honey wanted to rack out at 10-12 mph. It is her comfortable speed. The first time I sat on her at home, she only had a light trail base under her. She took off at 10 mph and wanted no part of being rated at a slower speed. I decided to give her head and see how long she would go that speed. She tired that first ride after 9.5 miles and asked to slow down. I thought, “this mare may be special if I can get a hold of her head and her emotions.”

Honey racked up within the first 4 horses and we swapped back and forth until we finally caught up with a real house of fire Arabian. In fact the mare’s name is Ella N Fires Jane Doe and is ridden and owned by Lori Windows. This mare is unbelievably good. She has been a repeat national BC champion, and has about 3000 aerc miles on her. Her worst 50 mile finish in her last 10 races was a second place finish and she took BC in 8 of those ten events. The Arabian mare is a winner of the U.S. War Mare award. Honey was in high cotton to be near her.

Honey set the pace for Cheyenne. Honey did her 10-12 mph and it really did not matter what the terrain was or whether we were headed up hill or downhill. Lori Windows and Jane Doe were faster than we were on the flats but our down hills were quite a bit faster. So we all went back and forth. It was fun. Lori said once, “We don’t have the Shawnee to train in like you do!” She was right and that is tremendous advantage when you can train in a more challenging environment than you are competing in. Honey and Cheyenne hit the ride camp in front and Lori was right behind. It was already getting warm. We all jerked off the saddles. We used cold water, but the Arabian didn’t need it. She was down to 64 instantly. I know Honey and thought she was down, so I presented her for pulse. The Vet said, “she is almost there, give her a minute”. I gave her two minutes of light sponging and asked for a check. Again, the Vet said, “Almost there.” I asked, “How almost?” He said, 4 beats every time I timed her. I asked, “and that is every 15 seconds?” He said, “Yes”. I mentioned that 4×15 was 60 and 60 was less than 64 and that 64 was the heart rate parameter. He smiled and said he needed some caffeine. I laughed, but lost about 3 or 4 minutes.

My friend Gaby and Cheyenne took a couple of minutes longer to come down. Cheyenne is horse version of Tina Turner. She is all shapely and muscular and has great legs. But big girls can take longer to cool than little thin girls.

We were now back in about 6th and 7th places. Honey asked for her 10 to 12 mph and I let her go and kept an eye on the heart rate monitor. By mid -loop we were sponging. We jumped off and walked in the last 600 yards and found ourselves coming in a few minutes off the leaders. Honey came down well, but Chey was a few minutes longer and took more sponging. She hung up at 68 for a few minutes, but then dropped. It was now HOT.

Our crews did a great job and things were in order. Gaby told me she was done racing heads up behind Honey right before I was going to say the same thing. Again, Lori and Fires Jane Doe where down to 64 immediately upon presenting.

Honey and I were 8 minutes down from the leader. Lori is a national class rider and her horse is also that good. Honey was at her 3rd ride and had 150 Aerc miles at the end of the day. However, my horses don’t know when they are ridden if they have had a race fee paid or not, and I really do try and prepare them to the best of my ability. By the end of the day, Honey had been ridden 84 times and had 1,111 miles on her in training. I knew she was tough. I just did not know how tough. She wanted to move 10-12 miles and hour in a rack and did not care about the temperature , the humidity or her heart rate. I watched her very, very closely and we racked 10-12 between each creek. Then I sponged her and she dropped to the 80s with me on her back. The electrolyte protocol I used worked well and she drank, and drank and drank.Chey and Gaby Finish  Gaby and Cheyenne at the finish. They did SO good! Did I mention how hot it was?

Honey at finishSouthern Honey and I were both glad to be done.

We finished 9 minutes back from Lori and Fire’s Jane Doe and took a solid second place and first in weight class.  I think our moving time for the 15 miles was a bit faster than the winning horse but I spent enough time in every single creek to drop her heart rate into the 80s. I did not bother with BC. I knew the Arabian was too solid. Honey later had a right rear muscle cramp which I rubbed out and David took her for a walk. Cheyenne and Gaby finished a solid fourth and we all celebrated getting both horses through as the only gaited horses in the 50.

Honey after finishHoney lounging with grub after her finish.

This ride features a very welcoming group of managers and riders. It also features cool home made awards , great T Shirts and fantastic slow cooked cobblers out of cast iron cauldrons that have spent slow cooking time with a wood fire.

When I started this, I had no idea what a gaited horse could do at this sport, or if it could do the sport, or if I could do this sport. We have been blessed past my imagination. It has given my wife, Sandy and I, something to share in our later years.  It has kept her active despite numerous bizarre health challenges that would leave most men home in a recliner. This was our 90th event, including 100s, and our 81st completion.

What did I learn at Dead Dog Creek? I will use even more of my electrolyte brew next time and give a tube mid loop. I will also use more calcium supplement. I also learned that a twh mare can be tougher that I dreamed.

The same course has a 50 and a 100 in September and it is called Lincoln Trail. I hope to see you there! A huge thank you to the Mowrers and to Linda Stewart. Well done!

Keith Kibler

Shawnee Sunrise Farm


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