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2021 & 2022 Ride photos by Merri Melde


2023 Spanish Peaks Pioneer - August 19-23

Fun Photo Galleries


Day Before

Day 1


Day 2

Day 3


Day 4

Day 5


The 5-day 255-mile Spanish Peaks Pioneer 2023 - Ann Wicks

By Ann Scott Wicks

Jicarilla Journey. Journ-Journ. Beautiful Girl. All names for my wonderful Mustang mare. I am so lucky to have this amazing horse in my life. She is kind, sensible, and as sure-footed as they come. And this past week, she gave me her all. She never once hesitated when I made the big ask at the SoCo Spanish Peaks endurance ride to try and ride five days in a row: 255 miles of challenging terrain in some of the most beautiful country I have ever ridden.

There are so many moving parts to a successful endurance ride, particularly one over 1,600 miles from home, that just arriving at ride camp with happy, healthy horses is a win. From there, we took it one day at a time. With my traveling companions, Lynne Gilbert and her horse Calvin, our primary goal was to complete the first day’s 50 mile ride. It turned out to be a hotter than expected day, and with the possibility that we might want to ride back-to-back 50’s if all went well, we took it easy and rode as conservatively as the horses would allow; they wanted to move out, and we spent a good bit of the day asking them to take it easy and slow down!

The next day felt a bit more challenging with more demanding trail that included lots of climbs and descents, but again, the scenery was spectacular and we got to ride alongside, and then over, one of the many rock walls that define this landscape. At the start of the ride, we joined up with Kelly Stoneburner and Jesse James, who were planning to ride all five days. It was another successful day due in large part to riding with Kelly and Jesse, who knew the trails so well and paced us accordingly. At day’s end, another completion and our first time doing back-to-back 50’s. This gave us the opportunity to attempt a Pioneer Ride and tackle a third day on trail.

The third and fourth days are a bit of a blur. Each day’s rhythm was defined by all the things that had to happen before, during, and after the ride. The “Hellevator” was a highlight of Day Three - an adrenalin blast out of a canyon up steep switchbacks that had us laughing with relief when we got to the top. After successfully completing the three-day Pioneer, the possibility of attempting to ride all five days loomed large, and with Kelly’s encouragement, I decided to give it a go. Journey was doing great, and to my surprise, I felt great after each day’s ride. I decided I might never have this opportunity again and that I shouldn’t pass it up, so we would at least tackle Day Four. When Tenney announced at the ride meeting that night that she thought the Day Four trail was the most challenging, she wasn’t wrong! The day was made a bit more challenging due to lack of sleep that night: strong winds blew through camp for hours, rocking the trailer and making it difficult to sleep. Then once on trail, there were lots of big climbs up into the highlands among the aspen groves where where the elk tracks lined the trail, only to encounter “Luke’s Limit,” a long, slow, unmounted descent straight down the mountain. The horses took great care of themselves all day, eating along the trail and taking long drinks at the many water tanks. Finally, we arrived back at ride camp after a long, tiring day. Doubts about riding the next day surfaced as my girl was tired, and so was I.

But then the next morning at dawn, this normally reserved mare stepped forward to greet and nuzzle me (and no, I was not holding her feed pan!). Here it was, the morning of the fifth day, and completely unaware that I would again be tacking her up for yet another 50 miles, Journey was affectionate and wanted to be beside me. I got choked up. She was tired. I was tired. But we were both willing to give it a go. And go she did. In my semi brain-dead state, I left her hackamore at the trailer when I went to do the morning trot out for the vets. Oh well, I thought, she’ll be just fine in the rope halter; it was, after all, day five and she had already traveled 205 miles. How wrong I was! Once she was warmed up and we were out on trail, I quickly realized the rope halter was not going to do the trick. I had so much horse under me and she wanted to move out! I never would have believed it was possible to have as strong a horse on day five as I had on day one, but there she was! Needless to say, I grabbed the hackamore at our first hold so that the rest of the ride wouldn’t be a struggle. It was another beautiful day on trail that included the exciting descent of “Pistol Whip” and then lots of long walks and climbs along dusty trails. It was somewhat surreal arriving back at ride camp, and I Ioved that my dog Tripp came running up to greet us as we came off trail. And then during our final vet check, Journey took a step forward and put her face next to mine, her nose against my mouth, our breaths blending as we breathed in sync. I don’t know what she was feeling or thinking at that moment, but for me, it was a perfect ending to an amazing adventure, and I will always treasure the trust she placed in me and the steadfast way she carried me over some truly challenging terrain.

All of this would not have been possible without the generosity, support, encouragement, and trail savvy that Kelly and Jesse so willingly shared with me for over 200+ miles of trail, along with Lynne who jumped in to crew for us on days four and five, Cassidy Miller and Helen Gurina who helped trot Journey out the first two days when I twisted my hip after stepping in a hole, and Rob and Pam Talley Stoneburner who also helped crew for us. Then there were the wonderful vets and all the volunteers, the amazing food truck folks who provided us with great meals, and all the loving support from afar from my husband and daughters. Also, a big shout-out and thank you to Tenney Blouin with SoCo Endurance, and all the private land owners who made this ride possible. But most of all, a big thank you and all the love and devotion in the world to my wonderful Mustang mare, Jicarilla Journey, my beautiful girl.


Build the Trails and They Will Come: Spanish Peaks Pioneer



By Merri Melde
August 30 2023

It’s the 8th year Tennessee Lane Blouin has hosted SoCo Endurance rides in La Veta, Colorado (including the AERC National Championships in 2017), and this year with over 180 early entries, she had to close registration before the ride started. The 5-day Spanish Peaks Pioneer is followed the next weekend by the 100-mile Wahatoya Cup, which, this year, also included a 25, 50, and 75-mile ride.


With the exception of a few county roads, all miles of trail are on private property. Tennessee constantly works with some two dozen land owners for permission to traverse their land, so this is a ride over unique parts of southern Colorado that can be accessed no other way. Just prepping for this ride takes months and months of work from family and volunteers (think clearing trails after winter, then re-clearing them after rains, keeping all the private owners permissions in mind), replacing or re-painting the hundreds of permanent Tposts that mark the trail, besides all the other regular work that goes into putting on a large ride. There’s plenty of trail marking with ribbons, which cows love to eat, so the trails have to be re-marked, on some trails the morning before the riders reach the trail.


Only in this ride can you join the “Over the Wall” club - riding through one of the Walls that radiate down from West Spanish Peak. And this year on Day 2 of the Spanish Peaks and in the 75-mile and 100-miles of the Wahatoya Cup, riders crossed it twice, the first time at a new spot, accessing it by a long, steep climb and riding beneath a 150-foot high section of the wall. For comparison, fewer people are members of the Over the Wall club than have climbed Mount Everest!

A roll call during one of the 5-day ride meetings revealed riders attending from an astounding 20 states*.

This is a true mountain ride, with base camp at 8000 feet, nestled below the East and West Spanish Peaks, and all the wildlife that comes with it. There were probably no riders that didn’t see at least one bear this year!


Five horse and rider teams completed all five days of Limited Distance rides. Robert Chambless from Georgia and his 9-year-old gelding AJ won the Championship as the fastest team, not only winning four of the five days (and finishing second on the other one), but nabbing Best Condition every day. “AJ is a roachback, and he was a cull, and I got him for free,” Robert said. “We train all over the hills of Georgia, and he’s my buddy.”


Only one other horse and rider had ever completed all five days/255 miles of the distance rides (Kerry Redente and Valero GA), and this year three riders accomplished the feat (who even attempts to ride all five days of a Pioneer on one horse anymore? Where can you even find other 5-day rides anymore?).

Kelley Stoneburner and Reckless, and her husband Jesse Feinsod and Kenlyn Easy Legasy from Colorado also finished the five days. Reckless got overall Best Condition.


Ann Wicks and her mustang mare Jicarilla Journey from Georgia finished all five days in overall first place. “She is kind, sensible, and as sure-footed as they come. And this past week, she gave me her all,” Ann stated later.

The Spanish Peaks Pioneer is truly a Bucket List ride, a true challenge for horses and riders in a most beautiful part of the country.

*All the states (and it’s possible there were more!):
Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Kentucky, Ohio, Arkansas, California, Kentucky

More at:
http://endurance.net/international/USA/2023SpanishPeaksPioneer/



RIP Dr Gail Conway!



The Spanish Peaks Pioneer is August 19-23. Ride camp opens Tuesday. Location: SoCo Endurance Spanish Peaks Ride Camp. Five days of riding, (Saturday – Wednesday) with fun/intro rides, LDs & 50s all days.

The Trail

This is a true representation of the Southern Colorado Rockies and I don’t intend to butter that up for you. If you are worried about it being too challenging or technical, then ride the LD, I will make sure the LD is geared back so that inexperienced riders and horses can enjoy a less challenging but equally beautiful ride. The awesome geology around here makes for diverse terrain, with lots of climbs and descents as well as a few flat easy miles to cruise on. There will be some brief technical stretches to keep you entertained, so dismount when prompted if you are nervous. As for the longer distances (50+ miles) yes, this will be a challenging ride interspersed with technical stretches that will slow you down, so be smart with your pacing, make up time on the easy stuff and take your time in the tough stuff. I have designed the loops to mix it up, nice easy fast stretches interspersed with slow challenging climbs, descents, and fun technical stuff to keep you awake and give you something to write home about. The scenery is truly unbeatable, the ride camp setting is gorgeous, and as I said, the trails are diverse, with footing varying from flat, canterable-sandy-loam, to steep, walk-it-rocky. The land we are riding across is cattle country – there will be gates. I’m doing my best to minimize the number of gates, and improve the functionality of the ones we must keep closed. There is ample water on the trail, mostly cow tanks but also natural streams and ponds. Altitude: Camp is at >8000′ and the ride will range from 7000′ to a little over 9000′. Please feel free to give us constructive comments, advice, and recommendations, we’re doing our best for you!



2021 Spanish Peaks 5-Day Pioneer Pictographic


by Merri Melde-Endurance.net
July 1 2021

The twin Spanish Peaks are the story here. Tennessee’s annual Spanish Peaks ride (multiday, and in 2017 site of the AERC National Championship) take place below the twin peaks). Called “Huajatolla” by the Comanches, they were named a National Natural Landmark in 1976 with their igneous dikes - or walls - radiating down the mountains, one of which the riders get to ride through.


Not many Ridecamps are situated at 8000’!


The Colorado weather keeps you guessing: clouds, sun, rain, hail, thunderstorms, fog, sun, warm, hot, cool, cold, sometimes all in one day!


Riders came from far and wide - as far as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia - but it was local Colorado Young Rider Cassadee Jaksch who won the first 3 days of 50s (tying for first on day 1 with Vicki Holzer and Erin Lemmons, tying with Christoph Schork on day 2).


Winners and prizes and swag, oh my!


Riding through The Wall (which is a super treat, as these walls are all on private property, and Tennessee has special permission to do this!)


80-year-old Earl Baxter rode 205 miles (4 days of 50s, on 2 different horses, this mare of which many of us covet), finishing in the top ten every day!



Debi and Debbie finished all 5 days of LDs!


Two guy Gail/Gayles rode together on day 5 - what are the odds of that!

Today's a day off, then it's the 2-day Wahatoya Cup!