Hauling Ass: My first pack burro race

Editor’s Note: This week, we hear from Katrin Silva, an accomplished horsewoman as well as an impressive endurance runner. She writes about the burro races at the Leadville Boom Days celebration in the mountains of Colorado.

Colorado’s State Sport? Pack burro racing, of course!

By Katrin Silva

Pack Burro Racing is, in fact, a sanctioned sport. It involves running with an ass in tow on mountain trails, for distances between 10 and 30 miles. The rules are specific: burros (not mules, not ponies – asses only) must wear a pack saddle with 33 pounds of mining gear, including a pick, shovel, and gold pan.

Runner and burro must work as a team and cross the finish line together. Runners may push, pull, drag, or carry their ass, but they may not ride it.

Katy, a fellow ultra runner I’d met from Sydney, Australia, found this niche phenomenon particularly fascinating. She had heard that burro racing is not a strictly BYOB sport. It might be possible to rent a burro, she said.

Who wouldn’t be tempted by Bella and her cute keeper?

I was curious, too. I’m a cowgirl at heart and I train horses for a living, but had never worked with a donkey.

Intrigued though I was, I had planned to leave by noon at the latest. I would, of course, resist any temptation to run a burro race all day, then drive back to New Mexico really late. No way, I kept telling myself as Katy and I walked to the pack saddle weigh-in. I’d just to check things out. Really.

Downtown Leadville was teeming with burros of all colors and sizes, tied to horse trailers, to trees, and to lampposts. The ratio of cowboy hats to sun visors and cowboy boots to running shoes was 50/50.

The humans were busy with brushes, hoof picks, ropes, and packs. Donkeys were braying, pawing, and circling.

Two silver grey burros caught my eye. They stood like islands in a storm, while a grey-haired man and a young boy fed them hay and brushed their sleek coats.

I complimented the man on the excellent condition of his animals, and their calm demeanor. I patted the donkeys, a nine-year old brother-sister pair named Silver Jack and Bella. They were clearly the pride and joy of their owner, Maple. “Like a tree,” he said.

Maple couldn’t run today because of an injury, but his friend Nathalie was going to race Silver Jack. I mentioned my background with horses and expressed my interest in burro racing. Maple looked at me thoughtfully.

“No one is running with Bella today. Would you like to?”

He didn’t know, couldn’t know, that he had just offered the equivalent of a whiskey shot to a horse-a-holic. I bit back the enthusiastic “Yes!” that wanted to escape my lips. What was I thinking? The race didn’t start until 11 a.m. and would easily go on until late afternoon, depending on the burro’s mood.

I am a responsible woman. I wanted to get home in time to have dinner with my husband and to get ready for work the next morning.

Katrin and company

“I would love to, but I can’t. I have to be at work in the morning.”

Maple and his grandson looked disappointed.

“Well, we’re going to find some breakfast. You think about it,” said Maple.

Tied to a fence post, Bella munched on some grass. I stroked her exquisite ears. I scratched her neck. She nudged me, which I took to mean “Come on, run with me!”

I walked down the block to the cardboard table that served as burro race headquarters. Katy had found a burro and was signing up for the 15-mile women’s race. Her excitement was contagious. Before I knew it, there was a pen in my hand and a registration form in front of me. Forty dollars and a signature later, Bella and I were signed up as team Number 19.

Maple looked pleased and not surprised. He introduced me to Nathalie, and we proceeded to saddle our race partners. Silver Jack and Bella are inseparable, so our strategy was to keep the four of us together and move at a steady pace.

Maple expertly tied our numbers and all our gear securely to the saddle, then it was time to line up for the start.

Part II coming next week: Stop, Go, Gallop!

Saddle Bag Must-Haves

For some of us, arena work is a bit like running on a treadmill. Hello Tedium! Trails are what we prefer. We get out for an

Go Prepared or Go Home

hour, an afternoon, or the entire day to capture the expected and unexpected joys of trail riding.

But what to bring?

As you ramp up your riding this season, here are some suggestions for what to have in your saddlebag. It’s important to customize Saddlebag Must Haves according to your:

  • Length of ride
  • Type of country
  • Skill set
  • Weather conditions
  • as well as other considerations.

For example:

  • Needle nose pliers or some implement for taking out cactus needles might be handy if you’re in Arizona but probably not if you’re in Maine.
  • You might need a satellite phone or at least a download of the GAIA GPS app if you’re in the backcountry (GAIA does not rely on cell service. Read more here).
  • Rain gear is more likely to be used in New England than in the Southwest.

Plan accordingly and go prepared. The friendly folks at Outfitter Supply have a absolutely great selection of saddle bags and gear to put in saddle bags. Check out the Montana company here.

We love their Cavalry saddle bags, listed here. Coming soon, we’re review Muddy Creek rain chaps, listed here.

Important Items

– cell phone

– knife or multi-tool (see below)

– water (for yourself and your dogs if they don’t have access to any)

– baling twine (always handy in a pinch)

– snacks (Sometimes trail rides can be longer than expected. We prefer healthy items that don’t melt in the heat and can hang out in the saddlebag if not readily consumed: Patagonia Provisions has excellent fruit/nut bars as well as tasty buffalo jerky. All Good Provisions makes excellent trail mixes. Or, take generic granola bars. They can double as horse treats, too.

– horse treats (These are helpful if your horse gets loose, but just a nice thing to have, too. See above or click here for recipe)

– compass, maps, or map app

– first aid kit (Adventure Medical has excellent ones.)

There’s trail riding and then there’s trail riding. Some outings can be more hardcore than others.

For many riders out West, carrying bear spray and/or a handgun are saddlebag necessities. (The weapon is not just for self-defense or scaring off predators. If a horse is crippled, it might be the most humane solution to a bad situation.)

For knives, we love the Kershaw Leek and the Gerber multi-tools.

Raingear, an emergency blanket, matches or lighter and fire starter are good items to have, too. If you don’t have the space or interest in a full turnout coat, check out the Patagonia Alpine Houdini. Read our review here or buy it here.  As for firestarters, we like Pine Mountain’s ExtremeStart Fire Starter.

We want to hear from you!

Do you ride in groups or alone? If alone, what extra precautions do you take and what extra gear do you use?

Fun and Easy Trekking with GAIA

Of all the phone application options for trail and backcountry riders, the map app, GAIA GPS, has been the most referenced by horse riders I meet. They love it and use it religiously for their afternoon or weeklong adventures.

GAIA (according to Greek mythology, Gaia is Earth personified as a goddess) is a map app with which you can track, log your route, and follow a waypoint, all without using cellular data. GAIA simply uses with the GPS chip in your phone.

Cellular data use is problematic on a few fronts:

— it’s expensive

— it’s often not available when you most need it, like when riding in the backcountry.

GAIA solves both issues, as long as you have “Location Services” in your settings enabled for the app.

There are just a few things that are essential to remember when using GAIA:

  • Be prepared and download those maps of country where you’ll traveling in advance and when you have a wifi connection.
  • At the very least, get comfortable reading topographic maps and traveling by compass direction. When traveling in the backcountry, no app will save you. But having some basic Boy Scout skills will.
  • At the very least, spend time with GAIA to familiarize yourself with its many excellent features. This is not like using texting or the camera. It may take some exploring and experimenting to fully use and take advantage of it.

Check out these helpful features on using GAIA from Bikepacking and an Adventure blog.

Here’s a feature on map reading with a tutorial on how to read a topographical map.

The GAIA Pro version offers new elements of customization and functionality. If you’d like to try it, GAIA is offering our readers a FREE one-year subscription of GAIA PRO. To learn more, email support@gaiagps.com and mention NickerNews or ColoradoOutsider.

Happy Trails!

Baselayer Glamping

patagonia-womens-merino-air-hoodyDon’t get me wrong. I love camping of all sorts. But truck camping, one form of glamping, is what I’m doing lately. In a truck camper, you can:

  • Sleep on a real mattress
  • Overnight at highway rest stops with a locked door
  • Carry and cook a week’s worth of meals
  • Change clothes in privacy and standing up, even in a crowded parking lot

Call it practical, fun, and luxurious.

Patagonia’s Merino Air Hoody is to baselayers what truck camping is to camping. Both might be pricey dsc02809at the outset, but they pay off many, many times and in many, many ways.

I wore the itch-free, half wool/half Capilene top over a recent weekend of gathering cows in the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado. One day was sunny and fine. The next day was rainy and raw.

After five hours of moving cows through scrub oak and conifers, we returned to the trucks to swap out soaked chaps, soaked jeans, and soaked gloves. I was cold but my core was warm (in the Air Hoody and a few other layers). It was easy to head back out.

This top has the look and feel of luxury. I’m quite sensitive to the itchiness of wool, but the rich purple knit was soft and comfy on my skin. It’s incredibly light (just six ounces) and easily outmatched comparable synthetic baselayers.

Staying warm in rainy and raw weather

Staying warm in rainy and raw weather

Wool has a natural ability to deal with body odor which meant I could head to bed without smelling me, wear it (with its partner Merino bottoms ) as pajamas without smelling me, and use it the next day without smelling me.

What of the hoody?

Hokey and inappropriate in a base layer? Au contraire.

When it’s down, the hoody sits like a cowl neck but is cooler in the fashion sense and warmer in its usefulness. At night, us campers often resort to digging out a hat and wild rag to keep our heads and necks warm. No need here.

After a hard-working weekend, I washed it (Even with the wool, the Air Hoody’s care instructions are still simply machine wash and tumble dry.) and wore it to a nighttime dance performance in Durango. What other base layer can play dress up?

Details of the Merino Air Hoody

Details of the Merino Air Hoody

Happy and unplugged: Montana horsepacking at its best

We welcome our very own marketing director, Emily Thomas Luciano, as a guest columnist this week.

Here’s her report from a Montana horse pack trip:

I wanted to unplug. That is what I was most looking forward to about the four-day back country pack trip. Of course, I was

Heading out on the Montana trail

Heading out on the Montana trail

excited about the riding, breathtaking views, campfire camaraderie, and good food. But, it was definitely getting away from my phone, email, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, text message, voicemail, etc. that I was most excited about. And unplug I did!

My dad, Bar T Horsemanship’s Jim Thomas, and I teamed up with Montana Mountain West Outfitters out of Eureka, Montana, to put together the all-inclusive pack trip for us flatlanders. We had four days and three nights of backcountry fun.

What constitutes the backcountry?

Nine humans and 11 equines crammed into two rigs, then traveled 30 minutes out of town on a paved road into the West Kootenai National Forest. At that point, we turned onto a dirt road and drove IMG_6142another hour as we weaved, bumped and dusted up a mountain to a deserted trail head. We then packed the mules and climbed aboard our horses to ride another couple of miles into camp.

Home for those four days consisted of three tents, cots with bedrolls, a campfire, and a small kitchen where Yours Truly prepared two hot, made-from-scratch meals each day. The horses and mules called a makeshift paddock by a small pond home for the duration of our stay.

We began each morning with coffee, breakfast and talk of goals for the day before tacking up and heading out. Though we rode varying distances each day, our longest day (and our most eventful day!) clocked in at about 12 miles.

Montana viewWe had a picturesque ride planned for the day. We’d ride out from our camp, which was perched on a ridge, back down to the trail head. From there, we’d cross over onto an old logging road that curved around and down the mountain. There, we’d pick up another trail that followed a mountain creek and eventually lead to a waterfall where we’d break for lunch. There was even the promise of huckleberry picking along the way!

Though the ride started off just as planned, we had some unwelcomed guests not long after we reached the creek. It started off as an isolated incident—one rider dismounted and tied her horse off trail to use nature’s lavatories. When she got back on and moved toward the trail, her horse stepped in a yellow jacket nest! Needless to say, we all moved down the trail IMG_6163pretty quickly.

Just a short distance down the trail, we found a glorious huckleberry patch that hadn’t yet been picked over by bears. Of course, we had to stop and fill up any empty water bottles with the little blueberry-like balls of deliciousness.

After remounting and continuing down the trail, we found another nest. But it wasn’t just one horse— the nest had likely been disturbed by the first horse in our line, so they got us all. Though it was definitely a scary moment as the horses tried desperately to lope down the narrow trail to get through the bees, it made good fodder for campfire laughs that night. We all agreed that had we been on our horses from home and not these back-country-savvy steeds, it would be no laughing matter!

The memories of those four days will last a lifetime! From awe-inspiring views of the Kookanoosa Reservoir at 6,000 feet to campfire cooked pork chops and fresh huckleberry pancakes, I’m already counting down the days until next year. If you want to join us, please feel free to get in touch with me at ethomas04@gmail.com. We’ve already nailed down our dates and have secured our permits.

Insight from a Height; Equine Partnership has Many Forms

Clinicians say their clients are focused more than ever on the development of the horse-rider relationship. The personal connection with a particular horse and the development of thScreen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.26.20 AMat connection is what matters most to us.

Relationships can certainly grow with studious application. They can also grow with the camaraderie of hours, seasons, and years on the trails. It’s a BFF kind of thing in which decisions are made cooperatively, often subconsciously, and in which the destination is less the point than the journey.

I head out with Pep, the paint pony on a warm, sunny day. My goal is to find a route up Joe’s Canyon and onto Menefee Mountain. The area suffered a devastating wild fire in 2012, so the canyon is marked by a seven-foot deep, mostly dry stream bed with vertical walls. (With no trees or plants left, areas often flood after fires. Subsequent erosion damage can last for eons.)

We find ourselves dropping into the stream bed when the going gets too thick or steep on either side. This strategy involves identifying a not-too-steep place to descend and then an equally doable route for getting back up.

Pep considers the route

Pep considers the route strategy involves identifying a not-too-steep place to descend and then an equally doable route for getting back up.

On one stretch of creek bed, I get off and walk with Pep and the dogs. We come to a cul-de-sac, where dead fall has jammed up the narrow fissure and clogged the way. A box canyon in miniature.

We all stop to examine the remains of a deer who had recently met its demise here. A small pool of water should have triggered a yellow flag in my brain. Instead, I’m just happy the dogs could rehydrate.

I turn to face Pep, who has been more wary about the dead-end spot with its high embankments on each side. I watch as her hooves are being swallowed up by the fluid mix of sand and water underneath us. With Pep in the lead, we u-turn and get out lickety-split. I thank my partner for her attentiveness.

Further along, we need to cross the eroded stream bed again. I clamber down the steep embankment and ask her to follow. Six feet above me on the bank, Pep hesitates. To get out of her way, I climb up the other side, holding the very end of my mecate reins.

Not easy going

Not easy going

We’re staring across a divide at each other. It’s at least six feet across and six feet deep. Pep hesitates, assesses, thinks. I believe she’s flustered by the dogs; they are waiting at her heels for the next move. I call them to my side of the stream bed.

Suddenly, the mare gives me a I-have-a-better-plan look. In a split-second, she bows her head, sits back on her haunches, and l-a-u-n-c-h-e-s herself across the gap to land right beside me.

My jaw drops. I’m made speechless by her daring, by her athleticism, by that I-have-a-better-plan mentality which I’ve come to accept and love.

On days like these, our partnership – one that has had its share of ups and downs, literally and figuratively – becomes that much more of one.

I laugh. She licks her lips. And we continue on our way.

 

Solo rider tackles the PCT

We talked with Gillian Larson, who blogs here about her travels on the Pacific Crest Trail.

3f7179_5a03747cd358404ea0f16c438be3f1dcThe 24-year old and her two horses, Shyla and Takoda, are cranking out 25-mile days at high elevation. That’s about what the Unbranded team was doing, but Larson is solo and doesn’t have the budget or support of Ben Masters’ Big Adventure. Her total cost is under $20,000. Larson hopes to write a book on the technical aspects of her trek, with plenty of personal anecdotes woven in.

NickerNews: How does your gear compare to that of Unbranded?

Gillian Larson: All of Unbranded’s gear was too heavy for me. I’m at a higher elevation and usually just riding one horse. No pan. No campfire equipment. No bottle of whiskey. The map planning is different. I have a lot more maps available because I’m on the PCT.

NN: The snow is a big issue? You’re chipping away at it out of order, instead of doing it simply from south to north? It was problematic when you tackled it last year?

3f7179_948b73ab712243329f17ffafab1288bdGL: Yes, two thousand miles of the PCT is under snow until July. Doing it out of order is the only way to do it with no snow being an issue.

Initially, I thought I could go from South to North all in order.. But the trail chooses your route. This second time, I have much more respect for the snow

NN: How have your first weeks been going?

GL: It takes time for the horses to get serious about eating. Unfortunately, I don’t have glutinous horses.

Recently, we did 150 miles in six days. I’m hoping to finish by September.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 2.03.19 PMNN: You have an ingenious method for tackling it with minimal support and with minimal gear for your pack horse to carry. Can you explain?

GC: Yes, I have two rigs. I am borrowing my mom’s truck and I have my own. It’s a leap-frogging arrangement. On the map, I’m riding north to south. However, I drive the trucks and trailers south to north.

Safe travels and happy trails, Gillian!

Follow her here.

Psychology of an Exciting Moment

Scientists try to explain the slow motion phenomenon of a wreck, saying it has something to do with the almighty amygdala.
aaaThey say that cherry-sized bit of brain rules the day when emotions are in play and messes with the laying down of memories.
But what really happens within those three pounds of gelatinous, grey goop as you pitch, crash, fold, and collapse?
For starters, I do not believe it’s Slo-Mo. If they say neuro-connections are electric, then tumbling times become super-charged. They hum and buzz like transformers in the rain. Recollections stay static long after the storm has passed.
If memories of everyday happenings get laid down like thin pads of butter, congealing together over time, then mishap memories start with butter to which we add oats, sugar, olives, beef jerky, and plum preserves.
aaIt’s a mess that won’t coalesce into a loaf of ordinariness.
If an ordinary afternoon is a flat square of blue velvet, an extra ordinary one is a blue velvet pillow, with piping, applique, and swatches of extra color.
If a regular ride is a postcard of a forest, then a ride gone wrong has birds, bugs, smells, and breezes pushing out of the card stock.
That is why – as I shift my weight off the hurt – I remember:
— The fist-sized rocks of the downhill road coming up to meet me
— The cloud of dust settling on lips, legs, and arms
— Blood seeping through that dust, like a commercial’s colored water through a paper towel
aaaa
— Your hand on my knee and your voice saying, “Don’t get up.”
— How quickly the flies descended.
— How sunny the sun.
With these memories, the jostled, jelly organ has its fun.

 

 

We found awesome barn snacks

Here’s the thing with being outside and active: you get hungry.

And the more you tune into your body, the pickier you become about what goes down the gullet. If you listen, your body will tell you what works and what doesn’t.

pickybarsAnd, if research shows that being sedentary and eating fast food can become a destructive, self-fulfilling cycle (It does. Click here.), I’d like to suggest the opposite is also true: eating well and getting outside beget more eating well and getting outside.

So, I was happy to check out the food offerings at the OR. Here are two standouts:

Picky Bars might be the first bar I won’t get sick of. The Bend, Oregon company uses simple ingredients like dates, blueberries, almonds, rice cereal, and apricots. They’re flavorful without being too sweet. They have a balance of complex carbohydrates and protein that tastes good going down and doesn’t wig you out with a rush & crash or the sluggishness that comes from eating too much protein. We tried Blueberry Boomdizzle, Need for Seed (with sunflower butter), and Smooth Caffeinator (with hazelnuts and mocha. Yum.

I love oats. My horses love oats. My genes love oats (I’m fairly fit and trim, yet I still have high cholesterol. Doctors recommend Untitled-1oats.) So, I downright gravitated to the Munk Pack booth which featured single serving packs full of flavored oatmeal. I tried them on rides and hikes; they gave me instant and delayed satisfaction.

The instant element comes from yummy flavors (I tried raspberry coconut and blueberry acai flax.). The delayed satisfaction comes as you feel the nutrients begin to course their way through your system. No rush. No crash. All good.

Skeptics might balk at the packaging and texture. Munk Packs, based in Connecticut, could be mistaken for apple sauce pouches for toddlers. But get over it! It’s what inside that matters. And you can tell kids it’s strictly an adult taste.

Pick either when you’re between meals and still have an hour’s worth of chores or three miles to go until you reach home. Your body will say, “Thanks!”

Read more about what we discovered at the Outdoor Retailer.

Game of Thrones map can’t beat reality

g o t The Game of Thrones series opens every televised episode with a fantastical, moving map, detailing the terrain and boundaries of the Seven Kingdoms. In the show, fans watch battles, treacherous river crossings, and rugged mountain travels. Truly invested fans can then refer to the maps to confirm their understanding.

It’s cool escapism. But I tend to think NickerNews and BestHorsePractices readers prefer the real landscape and real escapism of their own backwoods and familiar trail systems.

Since landing in the Oquirrh mountain foothills of Utah, I’ve learned my way around, shed my fear of steep ascents and descents, adapted to the 6,000 foot elevation, and embraced the rocky terrain (with the help of Renegade Hoof Boots).home turf

Thanks to satellite imagery and USGS topographic maps, I’ve detailed local features and trails and given them names to make it easier to chat about them with family, friends, and fellow riders. There is Nap Rock, Tent Ridge, Raven’s Peak, the Meeting Place, the Intervention site, and so on.

Redmond Equine is building a fun, interactive map of their own. It covers the entire globe and has hundreds of pins for Fave Rides. Anyone can add a pin by sending an image of their Fave Ride (photo must be taken with horse’s ears in the foreground!) and providing a location. Check out my Fave Ride here.

Add yours by visiting this page.

Check out this GoPro tour of the Oquirrh foothills.

Happy Trails!

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