Chelsea Ashton, Open Division Winner 2020, with Gold Blossom (Mallie) PC: Darice Whyte

So those of you that know me, know the last couple years have been a struggle horse-wise.

In 2018 I had to unexpectedly retire my mare Snip, she was only 2 years into her endurance career. That summer I rode a different horse at every ride, 4 in total. It was a growing experience to get on horses I’d never ridden before. I bought a couple horses, sold a couple horses, things just weren’t coming together for me. I contemplated giving up horses and endurance riding completely….

In May of 2019 a fellow endurance rider surprised me and offered up a lovely Morgan mare she had been working with. I had the privilege of riding this horse the year before and my saddle seemed to be the only one that fit her properly. It seemed to be a sign after many prayers that the right horse would come along. Gold Blossom, more affectionately known as Mallie joined our herd and we started the process of working through her many anxieties. 8 homes in 8 years was a bit much for the poor girl.

2020 was to be our year. I had everything planned out. We would complete two 50 mile rides in May, which would qualify us for the AERC National Championships at Fort Howes in Montana in June. After that, we would use our local rides to prepare for our first attempt at a 100 mile ride in September. Everything was going to according to plan. The winter riding had been perfect for conditioning as none of the local farmers had gotten their fall work done. The fields were smooth and the snow wasn’t too deep so I could ride where ever I pleased to get our miles in.

Then COVID happened.

Any plans that were made were tossed out the window. I continued to ride, to keep my horse in condition, but I drastically altered my 2020 ride goals. My new goal was to complete one 50 to keep us on the path to some day receive the Decade team award. This award is given out after the same horse and rider have completed at least one 50 + mile ride each year for 10 years. May slipped by with no rides, June slipped by… July there was hope…. Finally in August the first endurance ride was allowed to proceed. Mallie and I completed our 50 mile ride and I was so grateful we were able to add one more notch on our Decade team score card.

And that was it. My ride season goal had been achieved and I was done for the year.

Or not.

The Souris Bend ride on September long weekend got approved, but then 10 days before the ride was to happen, the COVID restrictions in that health district shut down any chances of the event happening. With trails available here at home, a group of us scrambled to get trails marked and ride info changed. With the ride now being 5 miles from home, I decided I would try another 50. The weather was perfect and I think it ended up being my favourite ride of the season…even though we did the same loop 4 times and my horse pretty much refused to drink. I finished this ride feeling like Mallie could easily do another 25 miles and we were rewarded with the High Vet Score and coveted Best Conditioned award.

Again, I told myself I was done for the season. We had surpassed my adjusted COVID ride goals and I was super happy with how things went.

I’m not exactly sure what happened….whether I was addicted to riding or my riding comrades pressured me into riding again… but somewhere between the second and third ride of the year a little lightbulb went on in my head…. While everyone else who was riding at the 50 mile distance had multiple horses to get miles on, I only had Mallie. If I could some how get her through all five 50 mile rides that were now being offered, she had a good chance a winning the High Mileage horse of the year award in Manitoba. I have never ridden for placings or points (Ok I lied, there was one ride 6 years ago that I had wanted to win) and for the last few years have been a proud member of Team Turtle, often placing last.

I struggled with the thought of asking so much of my horse. The last three rides were a week apart and would require us to do 100 miles on the last weekend. After lots of back and forth, and making my friends crazy with my dilemma, we entered the rides.

Mile after mile, loop after loop, vet check after vet check, I kept waiting for a lame step. I kept waiting for Mallie to say “I’m done”. She never quit. This mare didn’t question going out for each loop and on the last weekend, when we finished the last 50 miles, after doing 50 the day before, she would have gone out again if asked. Yes, she was tired, but she finished! “To Finish is to Win” and I truly felt this after every ride this season.

We didn’t know what sort of ride season we would have after COVID hit, but I am very happy with how our 2020 season turned out. True, we didn’t make it to Nationals and we didn’t do a one-day 100, but this amazing little horse finished 250 miles and conquered a lot of fears along the way.

We have transferred our original 2020 goals to 2021 and are looking forward to the journey that lies ahead. Hope to see you out on the trails!

Chelsea Ashton

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