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Join Me and Sandy on Our First 50 Mile Endurance Ride Together!

girl riding horse on a trail.
Picture by Merrie Melde

I wanted to share something significant that happened recently: Sandy and I completed our first-ever 50-mile ride together. It was one of the most brutal and mentally challenging experiences I've ever faced.


For those who have been following my journey, you know Sandy and I began our endurance career last year. We’ve been building up to this moment with the goal of tackling a 50-mile ride.


At the beginning of this year, I spent a lot of time debating when we should plan our first 50. My nerves wanted it to be later this fall, but after chatting with a few friends and mentors who have completed hundreds of endurance rides, they helped me realize that Sandy and I were more than ready for our first 50. So instead of waiting till September, we decided to have our 50-mile debut at City of Rocks. 


(P.S. If you’d rather listen vs read you can hear my thoughts on episode 86 of the Horsewoman Project Podcast)



A bit about the City of Rocks Ride


The ride has you navigating the trails alongside foot runners who are tackling half-, full-, and ultra-marathons. The runners had been trained on how to yield to the horses and riders and were all happy to hop off the trail quickly to let us pass.


Since Sandy and I were far behind the other 50 riders, it was kind of nice to at least have runners to see and pass as we made our way to the finish line.



The good


Footing: Contrary to what the name might suggest, the footing for this ride is actually quite nice. The trails are mostly sand and while you do have some rocks you have to navigate, it’s by no means the whole trail.

The view beyond the horse while on horseback.

Scenery: The scenery is amazing, I love seeing all the boulders and rock mountains shoot up amid meadows and forested areas.




Camp: Ride camp is also pretty good. There isn’t any type of natural shade so we rigged up our own makeshift awning to try and beat the sun. But there is quite a bit of grass for the horses to graze on when you walk them around and it’s pretty easy to find a good level parking spot.





The Not-So-Good


  • Trail Navigation: The marking system they had in place was a little hard to navigate. Instead of the customary colored ribbons that tell you that you’re on the right trail, they have opted for a letter and arrow system. I had high hopes for these, but it ended up being quite frustrating. 


We ended up getting lost for about 45 minutes on the first loop because the trail disappeared and it was hard to see where it continued. Once I was able to navigate back to a trail, there was an arrow to point me in the right direction, but I had no idea if I was on trail A, F, S, P, etc. until I made it another mile or two down the trail and saw their marking sign. It would have been nice to have some ribbons in place so we could double-check that we were indeed on the right trail and to mark some of those harder-to-see trails.


  • Pulsing In: The first loop of the ride was fun trail with only some short stretches of road to ride down, but coming into the first vet stop I found a huge crowd of people around the pulsing boxes as this was also the aide station/finish line for runners. It was hectic getting the ride management’s attention to have them mark that I came in and having that much activity around made it stressful trying to help Sandy pulse down.


  • The Second Loop: Then the second loop started us on a busy dirt road that lasted for about 13 miles before we were back on consistent trails. Having to travel down that much road was grueling, Sandy is NOT a fan of road riding and she immediately started fighting to go back to camp and refused to go much faster than a slow jog. We also had a couple of close calls with cars that were driving too fast and not looking for us, which made it stressful and a little nerve-wracking. 



Our Biggest Challenge


About 35 miles into the ride, Sandy hit her breaking point. She was ready to call it quits. I found myself struggling to find ways to motivate her to keep going. It hit me hard to recognize that she didn’t sign up for this challenge; she was doing it solely because I asked her to. This realization brought me to tears on the trail. It was a profound moment to understand her trust and willingness to keep going just because I was asking her to.


There were multiple moments on that loop when I thought, "We are never doing this again!" But after we finally crossed the finish line (we came in a couple of hours after the rest of the 50s), I started to feel a bit better about the experience.



The vets checked Sandy out and complimented us on how good her gut sounds and hydration were. Seeing Sandy bounce back and act like herself once we were back at camp really helped to ease my anxiety, and I started to think that maybe we could do this again.


vet checking horse while owner holds her.


Reflecting and Moving Forward


This experience taught me a lot about pushing limits and the importance of rest and recovery. The first time you push yourself out of your comfort zone will always be the hardest. Sandy and I went from doing 25-mile rides to a 50-mile ride, which was a significant jump for both of us. But as long as we’re both okay and we take the time to reset, recover, and reflect, we can come back even stronger.


Moving forward, I plan to commit to two more 50-mile rides to see how Sandy does, especially if we can ride with a friend for support. I’ll be watching her carefully, making sure she gets the rest she needs and is conditioned properly. It’s crucial to me that this remains a positive experience for her. I just can’t justify continuing to ask her to push this hard if it creates as much mental strain as this ride did.


Going into this ride, I was battling with a lot of personal stress that was already leaving me strained, so adding the stress of completing this ride led to physical and mental burnout for myself. Taking my own horse on this journey is completely different than riding someone else’s horse through this distance—the emotions are a lot higher! Because of that, it’s taken me a little longer to recover from this ride than when I did my first-ever 50 on my friend’s horse.


I thought that I would recover just as well as last time, so I didn’t feel the need to schedule in time to rest after the ride—a big mistake! I ended up getting pretty sick, which forced me to take the rest I needed, so I’m going to make sure to block out some time to allow my body to recover more fully after our next 50. 


This journey with Sandy has been far from easy, pushing us both to our physical and mental limits. Yet, the trust and bond between Sandy and me has grown to be stronger and deeper than I had ever realized it could be. It's clear that pushing beyond our comfort zones is never simple, but it's through these difficult experiences that we grow and become stronger.


To everyone who has been following our story, thank you for your support and encouragement. Remember, whether you're tackling a new challenge with your horse or in any other area of your life, it's essential to listen to your body and mind, take the time to recover, and never underestimate the power of perseverance. Sandy and I will continue our journey, learning and growing together, and I look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you.


Until next time, keep pushing forward, take care of yourself and your equine partner, and always strive for balance in your endeavors.


Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe so you never miss a post!


girl riding a horse through sage brush.
Picture by Merrie Melde

112 views4 comments

4 Kommentare


You are amazing! First, because doing a ride with two 25 mile loops with out-checks is much harder than doing a ride with 3-4 shorter loops. With the shorter loops and the vet checks in camp it is much easier to "rider option" when you see your horse is done. It also means you don't get stuck out in the middle of nowhere with no-one to rescue you. It also feels less like a failure because you can talk to more of the riders and see other horses that do not pass the vet check or do pass but really should not go on. The shorter loops also make it more likely that you will have more horses on the…


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McKayla
McKayla
20. Juni
Antwort an

Oh my goodness haha I feel like this needs to be it's own post, there are so many nuggets of wisdom in your comment. Thank you so much for sharing and for your feedback both on the post and the podcast, I really appreciate it!! I agree with everything you said especially the point "I realized that I had been so focused on conditioning that it became a box I checked" I've been starting to feel that way more and more. But just got Sandy out for her first ride after this 50 and just had a blast, letting her pick the pace stopping to play in the water, and practicing some body control. I had found that I wa…


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What do you feel made it more difficult for you to ride your own horse on a 50 rather than your friend’s horse?

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McKayla
McKayla
18. Juni
Antwort an

Thanks for your comment! Honestly going in on my own horse was so different as far as the mental strain it took out of me. When I road my friend's horse I was able to leave a lot of the major decisions about the horse to my friend since she knew him and knew what to expect. Going out on my own horse meant I was in charge of all the little decisions like pacing, when to ask her to stop and eat, wondering if she was acting normally or if I should be worried about her, things like that!


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