Endurance Horse Ride Returns to Whiskeytown


The Whiskeytown Chaser endurance ride is scheduled to return on April 9 with new event organizers and courses.

The long-distance equestrian event has evolved a great deal over the past two decades. It has earned a reputation as a great early season training ride for the prestigious Tevis Cup 100-mile ride over the Sierra Nevada, and as a difficult ride in its own right.

After the Chaser was canceled last year, longtime participants Jennifer Powell and Kris Wright took over as organizers from Bonnie Sterling, who successfully managed the event for years. Powell and Wright are trying to pump new enthusiasm into the 50- and 25-mile rides, and they have modified the courses considerably with the inclusion of 11 miles of trail in the Bureau of Land Management’s Swasey recreation area, which lies adjacent to Whiskeytown.

The Swasey trails are gentler and less technically demanding that many of the Whiskeytown trails. The Swasey trails help replace the Kanaka Peak Loop, a brutally hilly, rugged trail that has been closed since a 2008 fire. Powell hopes the new courses attract first-timers who might have been scared away by the event’s reputation.

“Whiskeytown has historically been a pretty tough first ride,” Powell said.

Audra Homicz, of Weaverville, who has ridden the Chaser once and served as a volunteer for three years, agreed the inclusion of the Swasey trails will make the ride relatively easier.

“I am really looking forward to it,” Homicz said. “I haven’t ridden all the way from Swasey to Whiskeytown before and have wanted too. This would be a good opportunity.”

The 50-miler also incorporates Whiskeytown’s Rich Gulch, Logging Camp and Ridge trails (known to mountain bikers as The Chimney, Satan’s Crack and Taco Stand, respectively) for the first time.

Local mountain biking enthusiast Mike Berg prepared a series of maps of the Whiskeytown Chaser course, which is available on the event website. I encourage all equestrians, mountain bikers, trail runners and hikers to check out these sweet maps. A mountain biker providing maps for an equestrian event demonstrates how well cyclists and horse riders get along in our area. We’re lucky not to have divisive battles over who can use which trails, conflicts that are common elsewhere.

“We’ve been really appreciative of how friendly mountain bikers are and how aware they are of our horses,” said Powell, who pedals a two-wheeler when she’s not atop her Morgan.

Both the 25- and 50-mile courses start and end at Horse Camp on Paige Bar Road, and many of the participants will indeed be camping at that location. It’s a good central location, but it can get crowded, so Powell is considering relocating the base to the Swasey property in future years.

“There is not a lot of communities where you can have a ride of this caliber in your backyard,” Powell added. “I want to emphasize that it is a ride, not a race. Yes, we do give prizes, but just to finish is an accomplishment.”

Powell also would like to bring back a ride and tie event to the area. In ride and tie, two-person teams share one horse. One person rides while another runs, with the team members switching off during the race. Whiskeytown has been the site for ride and tie races in the past.

Anyone interested in participating in the Whiskeytown Chaser as a rider or as a volunteer should visit the event website and contact Powell. And if you’d like to see ride and tie return, let her know.

shigley-mugshotPaul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and tried to run up the Kanaka Peak Loop several times. He walked. Paul Shigley may be reached at pauls.anewscafe@gmail.com.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.

has been a professional journalist since 1987. For 12 years, he served as editor or senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a statewide trade publication for land use planners, real estate development professionals and attorneys. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter or editor at newspapers in Redding, Grass Valley, Napa and Calistoga. Shigley's work also has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Planning magazine, Governing magazine, California Law Week, National Speed Sport News and elsewhere. In addition, he is co-author of Guide to California Planning, a college text and reference book, and is currently working on a book for the American Planning Association about the Bay Delta and California water resources. A graduate of California State University, Sacramento, Shigley has contributed to A News Cafe since 2009. He and his wife, Dana, live in western Shasta County.
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10 Responses

  1. Avatar Mark T. says:

    So, they're going to run how many horses around on April 9? I don't have a real issue with horses at Whiskeytown most times, but a race, in the spring, when the ground is soaking wet? Have you been out there after one of these events and runinto the trails where you can't even walk around the foot deep mud and mess creatred here? Can't we do these things in May or June when the ground's dried out even a little bit?

    I have seen trail after trail just trashed after these kinds of events.

    Mark Twitchell

    • Avatar Josh says:

      Horses do not do as much damage as bikes. The damage that horses do to a wet trail is minimal, and after a good rain the trail looks as i did before 50 horses trotted over it…

    • Avatar Bonnie Sterling, Rid says:

      Mark, we will probably be having 65 riders at most who will be coming up and over and coming down Escalator. Even when we have 8 inches of rain the previous night, I have never had any trouble riding on the decomposed granite that makes up the majority of the trails in Whiskeytown and Swasey. There may be a few boggy areas, but these areas remain boggy most of the winter and will not be made any worse. We are blessed with great trails in these local areas, and I believe they will remain just as great after our ride.

  2. Avatar Audra Homicz says:

    Yes it would be nice to have the ride at a different time of year but it has to do with the American Endurance Ride Conference sanctioning…the ride calendar is full…. This is the time that is alloted the Whiskeytown ride. Last time it was run in 2009 the weather was in the 90s…never know what weather you get in April…2010 the trails were not in good enough shape and it was canceled…

    Trail damage is exactly the kind of thing we want to mitigate with other trail users…Bike races do the same thing in these conditions…however trails users are always up to repairing and maintaining the trails….I believe damage is occurring right now without any one on the trail and that we will have to repair to use on April 9th…we will see….now if every horse was wearing easy boots instead of steel shoes that would be a help too…that last thing we want to do is antagonize other trail users. AERC has grants available for trail repair and a trail masters program to learn trail building in a sustainable way….water(erosion) does more trail damage then anything and if the trail is designed correctly the water drains and horses and bikes and hikers and their dogs don't leave a much trace…even on mountain tracks.

  3. Avatar Mark T. says:

    I agree with you Audra, we all cause an impact and we all need to be aware of that, and I think that we all should contribute to trail work (Josh, you really need to rethink your position as you are just flat wrong).

    And I'm sorry that the calendar is full, as my gripe is that when you run a race, with 50+ horses and riders over our terrain, especially as wet as it has been, you are going to cause damage. Lots of damage.

    I don't have a gripe about horses, some of my friends ride horses and bikes both. I don't have a gripe about horse races. If the race was in, say June, I wouldn't have an issue. But now?

    If I go up on the Escalator after the race and it's trashed, as i fear it will be, I'll be rather irritated, for sure.


  4. Avatar Michelle Jones says:

    I've only been riding endurance for 4-5 years but isn't it true a lot of trails that are being used by horse and bike riders wouldn't even be useable if AERC didn't clear them ! Also most of us try to go around those mud bogs when ever possible. it would be great if we could do Whiskeytown later in the year I froze my &^%$## off couple year before last!

  5. Avatar Audra Homicz says:

    The Escalator is s very technical trail that probably won't be used in the ride…The idea was to use the Swasey trails to make the ride less technical ….but I am not sure…I would have to ask Bonnie..whom is actually still the ride manager this year. If a trail is trashed I am sure it would not be left like that…I would like to see it held at a better time as far as not freezing our butts off as well and to minimize the chance of churning up trails…but then we run into extreme heat in our area and that is unsafe for the horses and riders…but to find a perfect solution for all would be so nice…and yes the rains do wash away the tracks…but if it stays dry after squishing it up it turns hard in that condition…kinda like when 4×4's 'mud boggin'…so whatever irritates you after the ride, let us know so we can work to fix it…

  6. Avatar Mary Chandler says:

    Sorry I wrote before seeing this. Hope you realize I'm for the use of the trails. We put them in to enjoy .

  7. Avatar Jane says:

    I think the gripe I have is that there are never any horse folks at trail building ,maintenance days. Mtn. Bikers go out and repair..replace and restore.

  8. Avatar Steve says:

    It would be nice if we could get some of the folks who ride horses out to the trail build/repair days at our local areas. I have been to just about every single one, and there have been only 3 equestrians at the events over the years, compared to 99% mountain bikers. We all use the trails, horses do a lot of damage to the trails, but do have every right to use them, thats what makes our area so awesome is that we have a great relationship. It would just be nice to see some more horse folk out on trail build days.