AERC Run for the Gold 15 Mile Fun Ride

We crossed another goal off this weekend. We completed the 15 miles fun ride at the AERC Run for the Gold Endurance Ride. And man was it fun.

The original plan was for me to leave with the horses on Thursday and for my husband to follow on Friday after work. But he had a work even Thursday night in San Francisco, so I ended up staying for that. When we got to the event, we were told by one of the staff that there was going to be a performance later. Then we were told by another staff member that there was going to be a presentation. And I was like, well, which one is it? Because one of those I want to see, and the other I don’t. It turned out to be a mix of both. There was a speech by some important people at the company and then there was a surprise concert by Imagine Dragons. There was also tons of food and an open bar, so totally worth it.

View from the event

My husband was able to leave work early on Friday so we got to go together instead of separately. I spent the morning running errands, shopping, making food, loading the truck, and then going to the barn to get the trailer and horses. I picked up my husband with the truck and trailer and he switched to driving. The drive took us a bit over 4 hours and wasn’t too bad though the truck was making a weird noise – we suspect it needs a new air filter.

Unfortunately, we arrived around 4pm and the meadow was nearly full of trailers and pens at this point. We were told to park in one place and after spending time maneuvering the trailer into the spot, I found a sign saying no parking because it was the vet check exit. So we had to move. The people who came in after us had an even harder time finding a place to park. I think there were over 100 people entered in the various rides and a lot of them came separately so there were close to 100 rigs in the meadow.

I took this picture late on Saturday after a lot of trailers had left. All of the empty space had been full and there are a lot more trailers down to the left that get squished by the panorama effect. Next time, I am getting there a day early and getting a better parking spot.

We had HiTie’s installed on our trailer before the ride. I was rather worried about this as we’ve never used them before. Shasta is very accomplished at escaping and Nilla pulls back as a hobby. They both paw when annoyed/bored so I was anticipating chaos. Instead, they worked really well.

After we got settled, there was a new rider meeting. The woman running it was basically walking everyone through all the steps of the ride: how to vet, how to manage pace, timing, crew bags, lots of stuff. I knew a lot of it from reading blogs and educational material, but it was still a good session. She even gave out stethoscopes to everyone who answered questions so that we could monitor our horses’ heart rates on our own.

After the meeting, we went to vet the ponies in. Nilla once again injured herself in the trailer and I was really concerned she wouldn’t be sound, but the vet cleared her with all As. The ponies also got their numbers written on their flanks like proper endurance horses.


Then we went to the bring your own meat BBQ and rider meeting. At the rider meeting, the ride manager went over the rules and explained the trails and vet checks. The start times were also moved up 1/2 an hour because of the predicted heat. This way everyone could ride a little bit longer in the cooler morning.

After the meeting, we went back to the truck because it was getting really cold and I wanted to get a jacket. We blanketed the ponies (I finally remembered blankets), fed them their evening hay, refilled their water for like the 50 millionth time, and then climbed into the truck to watch half a movie on the iPad before going to sleep.

I didn’t sleep very well because of a combination of factors, one of which being that we could feel the horses every time they moved and pulled on their ties. I kept thinking one of them was going to break free and take off through camp at any moment. Next time we’ll need to unhook the truck and trailer so we can’t feel them shifting around. I was also probably too mentally worried abut the ride to sleep well.

We eventually woke up and watched the 50s head out of the start at 6am. It was fun to watch them all take off. I made breakfast while my husband fed the ponies and then we ate while watching the 25s take off at 7am. At this point we started tacking up so we could warm them up a bit before the start at 8am.

The ponies were surprisingly well-behaved about the crowd of people milling around waiting for the start. I know Dijon would have lost his mind. Nilla and Shasta were pretty hyped, but they kept their brains in their heads and we were able to walk around and get them stretched out before the start. At the start line, we were in the front as I knew our 2 were going to want to go go go. And they did.

We trotted for a mile or so before they wanted to walk. We mixed walking and trotting the rest of the way to the 3 mile trot by vet check. We were passed by a woman on a cute little TWH. Then were were passed by a woman who had done real endurance in the past and just does the fun ride now and offered to help anyone who needed it on the ride. A woman on a small, fat bay Arabian was riding with her. They sort of zigzagged with us –  passing us when we were walking, being passed by us when we were trotting. The little fat bay was looking really sweaty and was huffing and puffing pretty hard. She clearly wanted to go, but was not in condition to do so.

At the trot by vet check, there was a water tank that we stopped at to let the ponies drink. I hopped off to  sponge Nilla and the mentor advised the lady on the fat bay to do so as well. We left before they did and it was just us and the the TWH for the next 8 miles or so.

The trails were really nice. Mostly wide logging roads with easy grades. There was one section of single track going downhill that was through a really buggy section. Nilla’s conformation and saddle fitting issues mean that downhill is not our friend on a good day. It’s even worse when there are a million bugs attacking your mule and she keeps shaking her head and trying to run down the hill.

The trails were also really well marked. There were ribbons everywhere, flour arrows to point the way at turn, paper plates with directions on them at some turns and flour lines across wrong turns. I heard that a few people got lost, but I honestly don’t understand how anyone could possibly get lost.

There were also water tanks every 3-5 miles. Of course Nilla was refusing to drink from the tanks so we wasted a lot of time standing around at them trying to convince her to drink. At one point, I got off, and held horse treats under the water to force her mouth into the tank to get the treats. I don’t know how much water she actually drank with this trick, but all the wasted time did lead to us getting passed by a woman riding a really pretty Rocky Mountain Horse gelding. He was a beautiful silver dapple color with lots of chrome. That is my favorite color of horse and I love gaited horses. My husband commented that it was a nice horse and I said I’d trade Nilla in for the horse if she wanted to trade.

Don’t worry, no Nilla’s were traded in the making of this post

We were riding at times through the Sierra National Forest. The trail also had gorgeous views in same places. I think some of the views were of Yosemite, which was close by.

After getting passed at the water tank, we were also passed by a pack of 25 milers racing for the finish. There were pretty much assholes that raced past us despite the fact that Nilla was having a melt-down about it. You’re supposed to slow the hell down when you pass people. So rude. Of course they passed us as were were going by an abandoned mining cabin from the gold rush that I was trying to take a picture of. So I had my camera in one hand while I was trying to wrestle Nilla into not galloping off with them. The cabin was really cool though:

Shortly after the cabin we were back on the main trail leading to the base camp. We started seeing a lot of 50 milers going back out. They had already done 25 miles and the 15 mile loop we did was their second loop. We also walked along with a man heading in to base camp who was hoping his horse might calm down and walk with ours, but the horse was too amped so he ended up getting off to walk and we went back to trotting back in.

15 Mile Yellow Loop

All of the 50 milers smiled, or waved, said hi, or asked how our ride was going. They all seemed really welcoming and not obnoxious and elitist as I’ve read about on some endurance blogs. I’m sure those people exist, but most people we met were really nice. The ride manager actually made a point in the meeting of telling the 25 and 50s to be nice to the new people so the sport can grow.

We split up to cross the finish as the photographer was in the field right before the end. I also attempted to walk in after the photographer, but Nill got upset that Shasta had abandoned her to die on the trail so I let her trot in too. My husband crossed the finish at 10:50 and I crossed at 10:52.

Once I crossed the line, I hopped off and held Shasta’s reins while my husband stripped her tack to cool her down. A volunteer came over and asked if our horses pulsed down quickly and we said we had no idea. She wasn’t busy so she offered to take their pulses. Nilla was already at 60, which was the criteria for finishing. So she got 10:54 as her pulse time. Shasta was at 72 and didn’t make it to 60 until 10:59.

We took them back to the trailer to strip their tack before vetting in. Despite not drinking for almost the entire ride, Nilla got all As. The vet’s comment was that she looked like she had spent the morning sitting on a couch eating popcorn. Her pulse was also 40 at this point. Shasta had a mix of As, Bs, and Cs and her pulse was 72. And Shasta drank the whole way through.

And this is why I wanted to do a 15 before doing a 25 even though I think we could easily have done a 25. I spent the whole ride worrying and wasting time at water tanks and clearly Nilla just didn’t need to drink as much as Shasta. I know mules are hardier than horses in theory, but it was nice to have a vet verify that Nilla was all right.

Elevation is Blue. Speed is Red

After vetting we returned to the trailer, gave the ponies their beet pulp mashes, and spent the entire afternoon playing stay in the shade. We would move our chairs as the sun shifted. It was really, really hot – in the 90s and with bright sun. Sometimes the breeze would go through and that was nice, but most of the time it was just stifling hot. We read books and watched the 50s going in and out for the last loops. I started dreaming about how nice it would be to have a living quarters trailer with AC. A lot of people packed up and left at this point instead of staying for the awards ceremony and dinner.

At 5pm, we went over to the dinner, which didn’t actually start until closer to 6pm, but we hung out in the shade and chatted with people. Then we ate BBQ dinner while the awards were announced. This ride had great awards. Everyone who finished the 25 or 50 got a prize. There was a logoed bag filled with vendor samples and a collapsible brass hoofpick. The 15 mile riders got the vendor samples and a certificate of completion. But the top 10 endurance riders got the best prize. A vial of gold flakes. So it really is a run for the gold. I saw that and was like screw this “to complete is to win” shit, I need to win. Even my husband saw that prize and turned to ask me how fast did I think the 10th place rider was? Similar minds and all…

Every rider got called up to collect their prizes and everyone clapped for them. Even the 15 milers were called up and presented with their prizes. They went in reverse order of finish. I was glad to see that the lady riding the fat bay mare had finished, although she came in near the end. But honestly, that was good. That little mare needed to be slowed down. We learned while chatting before dinner that two 15 mile riders were disqualified at the 3 mile vet check because they didn’t have hoof protection (mentioned as a requirement in the rules) and the flew into the vet check covered in sweat and huffing. Honestly, you could walk 15 miles in 5 hours with a horse you pulled out of pasture so there’s no reason to be racing like that. I’m really glad they got eliminated.

I forgot that your pulse time is actually your finish time so when they called my husband before me I thought maybe they had missed me, but then I remembered that I had actually beat him because Nilla pulsed down faster. I was 3rd and my husband was 4th. I think we could have been 1st and 2nd if we hadn’t wasted so much time trying to get Nilla to drink.

If only Nilla was a horse…

I was really happy with my prizes though. Especially the collapsible hood pick, which went straight into my saddle bag. After the awards ceremony, we went back to the truck, fed the ponies their evening grain, and finished our movie before falling asleep.

We slept in a little bit the next morning, but it was hard to sleep much with the sun out and all of the people around us packing up and driving off. We finally got up, had breakfast and packed up ourselves. Then we played get on the goddamned trailer with Nilla. Given the extent or her injuries and antics, I’m honestly not surprised she didn’t want to get on the trailer. I’m more surprised she was willing to get on on Friday. We tried variations of leading, lunging, chasing with a crop, etc, but nothing was getting her on. She kept rearing and bolting off trying to rip the lead out of our hands. I finally caved and we pulled the lunge line through the escape door and then through the hitching ring on that side of the trail to make a double pulley. They we pulled her on to the trailer. As soon as she tried to pull back and finally couldn’t, she actually gave up the whole fight and just walked on. We then had to struggle to get Shasta on and shut the butt bar with Nilla hurling herself around as soon as Shasta got on. Once we finally go them on, we locked all the doors and raced into the truck to leave as soon as we could.

Nilla arrived back at the barn covered in blood and missing large chunks of hair and skin. I was watching her on the trailer cam and at times she was hurling herself sideways – leaning onto the central divider and actually putting her hooves up on the outside wall. It was like she was trying to surf. So I asked the vet for some Ace and she’s getting drugged for long rides from now on. I might normally say she’s unbalanced, but she’s been trailered for months without freaking out like this. It’s only in the last few weeks that she’s been panicking like this in the trailer. I do not know what’s wrong with he and I don’t know how to fix it. I’m open to any suggestions anyone might have.

Aside from the trailering issues, this was a great weekend. We’re already planning a few upcoming 25s this summer and fall. I can’t wait to do another one. I just really need to stay sane because a part of me really wants that gold vial, but I don’t own an Arabian so I’d just be setting myself up for failure if my goal is winning. I’ll be happy to just finish and have a good time.

One thought on “AERC Run for the Gold 15 Mile Fun Ride

  1. sarahczspots

    Sounds like everything went great (besides Nilla's new form of crazy). I would totally be the bay mare on a ride like that though. Fat and miserable. 😉

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