Death Valley Encounter 2016
Monday and Tuesday went like any other week, training horses in the morning and taking care of my family in the afternoon.
All the excitement began with Wednesday, with Aria and I going to the Death Valley Encounter. I was very happy to have Kathy with me and it got even better when, Tuesday night, Sonia Deerinck told me she had decided to join us.
Wednesday, I woke up at five. Went to the barn early to work Misty and headed for Vivian Thwaits's barn at seven forty five to work Skye, Mama and Luca. John Thwaits was going to feed them lunch for me, so I could leave for the ride. At 10:30 Sonia and I met Kathy in Escondido and began our four and a half hours drive up to the desert.
The Mojave Desert is a magical place, I love going there to ride, but I honestly say I would not be able to live there, it is a very tough and rough natural environment. After the rain it becomes green, and one could think that the new vegetation is tender and fragile, but if you touch it you find how tough and thorny things are to be able to survive in the extreme desert weather.
One of my first times riding there, I accidentally touched a twig with one of my knees, making a four inch tear in my riding pants. Since then I have learned to respect all that surrounds me, and this time I brought it to the extreme when Aria and I climbed up the Slate Range. ....but now I am still talking about the trip!
Kathy with her truck and travel trailer followed me to Trona, and we arrived at base camp, at the Trona Country Club. We found a great spot for our camp, at the end of the row of trailers, and next to other riders who had put up big corrals for their horses, on the sandy ground.
Sonia and Kathy helped me set up an electrified pen for Aria. It was the first time she would spend the night in an electrified enclosure, and I was very nervous about it, given her ability to get free from any kind of tack. Last week she got out of her endurance bridle without damaging it and calmly came to look for me in the tack room, since I had just left her in the cross ties, attached by the halter.
We watched Aria while setting up camp and she seemed to be fine, until she touched the wire and ran in a circle kicking up in the air, then she stopped and stretched her nose out, to test the wire one more time. She did not touch it again, instead she immediately settled and began eating her hay. Shortly after I took Aria to the vet check and was pleasantly surprised by how she approached every water trough when we were walking through camp and drank from it. She passed the check with As and a great attitude.
At seven I went to the ride meeting with Kathy, who was very curious about endurance and came to listen to our pre ride briefing. This was my first time at the Death Valley Encounter, but I rode many times in the Duck Rides, that are managed by Annie and Dave Nicholson. They do a fantastic job at organizing the rides, and I feel very safe when I am riding because it seems that Dave knows where each rider is during the whole time we are out on the trail. Several times while riding in the "middle of nothing" I would see his Jeep driving up to us and checking on how we were doing.
Going back to the ride meeting, all was pretty clear when we left the clubhouse. I was already looking forward to sleeping in a warm trailer, instead of the back of my SUV, as I normally do at endurance rides. It had been a very long day and I needed all the rest I could get to be ready to ride. Kathy, Sonia and I went to bed early, and I woke up at four to feed Aria her mash and make sure she was ok. The trail was on very difficult and rocky terrain with a severe climb and it was Aria's second ride. A month earlier she had kicked the corral bars and caused a rough spot at the hairline on the left hind heels, I chose not to wear hoof boots because I knew it would have caused a sore, but I also did not know how the terrain was going to be. In hindsight I am happy about my decision, it made it so I had to slow down and walk, even in certain parts where I could have gaited. It made so Aria learned to be an awesome trail horse, in fact when we are on rough terrain she lowers her head and watches carefully every step.
Back to the morning, we saddled up after a great breakfast and had a moment of thrill, when Aria got spooked while Sonia was holding her near the trailer and took off with the saddle. Unfortunately, she ran by a few of the poles of her corral and tore it apart. Aria didn't go very far and walked up to our neighbors that were saddling their horses.
The ride started at seven, and I left camp following other riders, being passed by some and making our way to the mountain range. The terrain was not too bad until the climb began and I felt we were going up to what looked like the moon, only we were not on it.
The Panamint Valley is an amazing place and being there with my young horse was an incredible experience. I had no idea that we were in the lead, and rode Aria like we ride in Daley Ranch every day, enjoying every second. I only have one problem with her, which is a great one to have...she is a very social horse and likes company. It is very difficult to go past any person or animal on our way. At home, we ride around the golf course at Reidy Creek, on a dirt trail, and Aria stops to go up to everyone that she meets.
At the vet check the vet announced to me that I was the first LD rider to come in, and I did not make anything of it, knowing that there was many riders and horses more experienced than us, and we were there only to have fun. That said and done, I have to be honest and say that in this ride I ended up passing a group of riders because we had a very different way to pace our horses, and I must have appeared very competitive because I wanted to pass them, but Aria did not want to do so. We went past them and kept our pace and they went their own pace, making for the best situation, instead of getting in an argument over it.
More riders passed us and I thought we were not in the lead anymore. The downhill was fun, Aria being a Mangalarga Marchador, we cruised down very fast and smoothly. At the bottom of the hill we were passed by a very hot blooded and fit horse, who kept cantering and changing speed. I was dreading Aria's reaction to that behavior, but she kept being her "cool" self. She did not want to pass the horse, even when the rider turned back and made a circle. Aria stopped and waited for them to go ahead, while I was laughing at myself, because I allowed her to do so. We were at the last half mile and I dismounted and walked past the finish line, where Kathy was waiting for us. She was taking a video and stopped right before the vet announced me that Aria and I had just won our first ride.
Aria was not sweaty or dirty, and her feet looked just like normal, even after 30 miles of riding on one of the hardest trails in this region, as Annie told us this morning when we left to go home.
My Aria de Los Cielos, young, barefoot, Mangalarga Marchador mare was the first of her breed to win in an AERC ride.
I had to keep pinching myself to believe that this is what happened!
When I reached the camp, our corral was perfectly standing, clean and ready, the neighbors corral was just like mine and I felt that I had two angels (Kathy and Sonia) taking care of us.
We received a beautiful engraved plate as a winning award, went to sleep and traveled back home in the rain.
At 1:45 pm I was back to work, grooming Skye, Mama and Luca after dropping off Aria at La Fleur Farms, where Rosalie and Misty welcomed us with a loud neigh, while we appeared at the gate.
Now that I have filled the screen of my phone with this very long story, I am ready to dream more….
….AND THE DREAM CAME TRUE!
By Alessandra Deerinck