As soon as I saw John Parke’s Sesenta Anos ride posted on the AERC calendar for Nov. 16-17, I knew it would be a must-do event. The ride was being held in celebration of John’s 60th birthday. Many riders in the AERC Southwest Region know John as the quirky guy in the Hawaiian shirt on the old Icelandic horse Remington (who is now 22). John is quite tall; Remington is not; you get the picture. John and Remington have more than 11,000 AERC miles together. John is known more widely as AERC’s attorney—a position he has held for numerous years and which he does voluntarily. AERC members should be thankful for John’s dedication. He has no doubt saved the AERC hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and gotten the organization out of a few pickles, as well.

Back to Sesenta Anos. The reason for my excitement was the location. The ride was held on the historic Rancho San Fernando Rey in upper Santa Ynez Valley. This valley is located north and inland from Santa Barbara. It is dotted with stunning horse farms and vineyards. It is a prominent wine region made famous by the movie “Sideways.” That’s all great, but this ranch is something truly special. It is an original Spanish land grant rancho that comprises 37,000 acres. I don’t know how to eyeball 37,000 acres, but I can tell you that the rancho stretches in all directions for as far as I can see. It rolls down valley to Lake Cachuma and up valley to the Las Padres National Forest. The Santa Ynez River runs through the ranch and there are 150 miles of jeep roads through the property that are used by the ranch staff. The rancho looks much as it must have some 200 years ago. The landscape is rugged, rocky and challenging. The mountainous terrain delivered numerous heart-pounding climbs. The rewards at the top of every hill were unbelievable views.

The 2-day ride drew about 70 entries. I brought four horses (that’s 16 hoof boots!), including Jenni Smith’s mare Toska. My friend Catherine Gallegos would be riding with us in her first endurance ride. She was excited beyond words, as it was her dream to be able to “ride like the wind.” I mounted her on my mare Stella, who I knew would give Catherine an easy ride, which she did.

On Friday afternoon, we booted everyone up for a pre-ride. I finally got smart and reorganized my hoof boots in separate bags by size. Jenni and Barry helped and so the booting process went much more quickly. We were only riding the limited distance so I didn’t use Easyboot Glue-Ons. The pre-ride proved to be just a glimpse of how spectacular the next day would be.

On Saturday, much to Catherine’s delight, we flew around the course. The horses loved it. We finished 1-2-3-4, and I’ve never seen someone with such a big grin on her face as Catherine had that day. I convinced her to ride again the next day and she and I again flew around the course. Most of the trail was pretty rocky, but because of our Easyboot Gloves we were able to maintain a good steady pace over the rocks. She was thrilled!

Jenni Smith, Catherine Gallegos, Jennifer Waitte and Barry Waitte.

I really enjoy introducing friends to endurance riding and getting to share all the things I love about it. Catherine is no average rider; she is a highly skilled Grand Prix level dressage rider. As we went down the trail I could see Catherine burst out of her constraints and revel in the freedom of galloping down the road. Add to this that we were being given this rare opportunity to ride at Rancho San Fernando Rey, and the days couldn’t have been better.

After the ride, John bent my ear for new ideas about how AERC could increase its membership. I suggested he encourage members to do what I did. If an AERC member knows someone who is interested in trying endurance, then make it possible for that friend to do so. Rather than telling him/her what she needs in order to ride in the sport (a suitable horse, suitable tack, transportation and training), invite the friend to participate in a ride on a finished horse. That’s what I did with Catherine. I invited her to ride with me on one of my horses. I made it easy for her to try the sport. Now she’s hooked and she will likely start looking for an endurance horse to add to her dressage barn. I’ve already invited her to another ride with us-this time a 50-miler. We elected to do the LD as her first ride. She rode almost 60 miles in two days with no trouble and is definitely ready for the next level.

Footnote: Remember Alyssa Radtke and her Mustang Dixie? Well, I finally got to ride Dixie at the Lake Sonoma 50 in early November. This was my first ride on a Mustang. She definitely has a mind of her own and the day confirmed for me that she is an excellent endurance horse. I’ve noticed a lot more Mustangs in endurance lately. It’s great to see people giving these horses a new life.