ACTHA ride host “team” Carole and Gary Wilder were high school sweethearts from the farm county in Iowa. In September, they will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. A monumental milestone filled with love and teamwork, which along the way has been blessed with a wonderful daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons.
Carole and Gary divide their time between Waddell, Arizona, a horse community on the outskirts of Phoenix and the cooler climate of Payson/Star Valley, Arizona. Accustomed to small towns they are proud to say Waddell has only a post office and a well equipped general store, for anything you might need on the ranch. For everything else, it requires a 30 mile drive into Phoenix. From April to November the Wilder’s head 80 miles north of Scottsdale to their cabin which sits on the edge of the 3,000,000 acre Tonto National Forest. With a temperature fifteen degrees cooler than Phoenix and a wonderful trail system they couldn’t ask for a more ideal way to spend their summers.
While Carole and Gary both ride, Gary gets more saddle time. Their history with horses is in three segments; fifteen years with horses, fifteen years without horses, and now fifteen years with horses again. The start of their first fifteen years of horses began with a work mate of Carole’s who had horses.
She knew a guy that had a nice two year old quarter horse mare in training that he was getting ready to sell. They bought her, despite the fact that Carole had no horse experience and Gary’s was limited to a couple of Welsh pony rides as a kid. As Gary said, “does anyone see red flags or hear ambulance sirens?
We didn’t even know that you shouldn’t let a two year old green broke sit in a pasture for a month before you get on her!”
Fast forward to the last fifteen years of horses and the lessons they have learned along the way. Carole’s horse Tux is a loud black and white 12 year old overo paint that she will occasionally loan out for ACTHA competitions. In February Carole loaned Tux out to their ride photographer, Jennifer LaBelle (www.silverbucklephoto.com) who rode him to a blue ribbon in the Scout division. Quite the accomplishment since Jen’s only other opportunity to ride Tux was the day before the ride when she helped Gary mark trails.
Rio, Gary’s horse is a 14 year old buckskin paint with no spots. The two competed in ACTHA seven years ago when they didn’t even know what ACTHA was. As Gary says, “we scored well – well, just out of the ribbons.” Cutie Pie is the grandkids’ riding pony and Gary’s driving pony, a high stepping hackney/quarter horse perfect for grandchildren or pulling a cart or wagonette.
Carole and Gary are now completing their fifth year as ACTHA ride hosts, having hosted 36 CTC events. Most of their events are 2 day, allowing for riders to have a great weekend getaway, since many travel long distances for an opportunity to spend time with family, friends and their horses.
Arizona has two riding seasons, summer and winter. During the winter season (November through April) Carole and Gary hold their rides in the Phoenix area at two different facilities. Estrella Mountain Park is a 20,000 acre county park and Bumble Bee Ranch, a horse event ranch that also allows for layovers in the Phoenix area. Both of these rides are in the desert environment of Arizona with lots of saguaro and other cactus, sandy dry washes and mountain trails.
In the summer season of April to November Carole and Gary move their rides to higher elevations and cooler temperatures. Like many ride hosts they have wonderful relationships with outstanding facilities.
Patterson Ranch in Payson, Arizona is a hunter/jumper training, showing and rehab facility located adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The ranch has pens and horse water available for ACTHA riders and the trail system is fantastic with a little water to play in (a real treat for desert riders), big pine trees and wonderful mountain views.
The annual Arizona ACTHA “Big Event” with 3 days of competition is on Memorial Day weekend, the last events in Arizona as the close of the ACTHA competitive year ends on May 31st. The “Big Event” takes place at Little Thumb Butte Bed and Breakfast in Paulden, Arizona about fifteen miles north of Prescott, Arizona. This facility is an outstanding western place with views that show off what Arizona is all about.
Bed and Breakfast hostess Ann Harrington provides a first-class operation complete with superb views of the mountains, horse facilities most only dream of and a friendly atmosphere accompanied with delicious breakfasts and dinners. Ann’s generosity and support of ACTHA and other horsemanship activities is truly appreciated by all.
Competition to get a room at Little Thumb Butte Bed and Breakfast for the Memorial Day weekend event is intense. So much so that they decided they would not take reservations for the upcoming year until June 1st, after the current year’s ride was complete. Reservation requests must be emailed and dated June 1st or later. As a testament to this great ride and facility by 8:00 a.m. on June 1st all 20 beds were reserved. Dry camping is available.
On Saturday and Sunday, with special permission, Carole and Gary are allowed to offer CTC’s located on the headwaters of the Verde River that starts at the B & B and flows to Phoenix. On these rides riders cross the Verde River multiple times in a canyon that has 200 foot sheer walls, huge cottonwood trees, beaver, blue heron, Indian ruins and petro glyphs. A very special place to ride!
On Monday, Memorial Day Carole and Gary have teamed up to do an AOC with ACTHA ride host “Bethany’s Gait”. This is a major fund raiser for their rescue and Veteran’s Riding Program. Besides the AOC there will be a used tack sale, raffles and food.
For Carole and Gary the question of how to provide constructive feedback to riders was the reason for creating the “Feedback Clinics”. The three hour clinic format is quite simple; 12 students, 4 judges and 4 obstacles. They use very basic ACTHA obstacles. One rider performs the obstacle and self-critiques, the next two riders on deck verbally critique, and finally the judge critiques the first rider. This takes about 15 minutes. The next 30 minutes allows 10 minutes for each student to utilize comments, to redo the obstacle 4-5 times with continuous feedback and support. Each group of 3 students rotates to the next obstacle at 45 minute intervals. It is very rewarding for all to see the “light bulb” turn on. Part of the clinic includes having well qualified riders so that new riders can see what a “10” looks like.
According to Carole and Gary, “hands down, we have the best support crew in ACTHA”. Their judging crew includes an ACTHA sponsor/clinician, a college level equine instructor and several Parelli students, all with substantial horsemanship credentials and experience. Their scribes, starters and drag riders love the opportunity ACTHA presents for the camaraderie with fellow horse enthusiasts.
As ride hosts Carole and Gary try to make FUN a major part of every event. Part of their Saturday night camaraderie involves a traditional competitive potluck dinner where riders bring a dish to share. A vote by attendees awards the “Best Main Dish” $20 to the chef. Besides their “Best Main Dish” competition with its variety of ethnic entrees, they have contests for “who can wear the most bling” and for “who has the most chic bling outfit”. Carole and Gary’s “Hide a Bear” contest starts at $20.00 and increases $20.00 each ride not found along the trail. For the upcoming ride the bear is worth $100.00 on Saturday and $120.00 on Sunday. Riders will ONLY see the bear if Carole and Gary want them to! It gives riders an opportunity to sharpen their observation skills.
Carole and Gary are quick to point out that as ride hosts try to prepare for the unexpected. At their first ride at the Bed and Breakfast Gary was judging when the first group of riders approached and said the trail ribbons were missing for a half mile or so. One of the riders who actually listened at the Riders’ Meeting said, “I remember you saying if all else fails, ride upstream- which we did”, allowing them to find Gary on the trail. The missing ribbons were on a part of the trail that had a lot of cow trails and it was confusing to know where to go without them. Jumping on Rio, Gary rode back until he found a bunch of riders trying to figure out where to go. When he asked, “does anyone have extra ribbon?” a junior rider spoke up and said “what color do you want?” The power of teamwork! Carole had been contacted by cell phone and sent ribbons with the next group of riding leaving camp.
Ride hosts typically let out a sigh of relief when all the judges are in place and the last rider is on the trail- time to relax a bit. Gary was enjoying a cup of coffee when he received a broken sketchy cell phone call. A horse had bucked; the rider dismounted and would not get back on. Gary’s thought was “she’s waiting and expecting me to rescue her. The ride is in a canyon with very limited access points- absolutely no vehicles allowed and a helicopter would be a bit expensive”. So Gary borrowed a horse, saddled Rio and hastily rode the three miles leading the extra horse down the canyon. The woman jumped on the pony and Gary lead her out. The ride host must expect the unexpected.
Five years as ACTHA ride hosts have given Carole and Gary the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. “To learn from and support the riders, to watch them grow in horsemanship and confidence is exciting and what encourages us. When awarding ribbons, we make a big deal about someone winning their first ribbon, their first blue or even their third blue. When someone graduates to the big time, aka the “Open” division we have a fun filled graduation party!” said Gary.
For ACTHA having this pair of dedicated ride hosts is a true testament of teamwork, not only to their riders and the charities they support, but to each other as well.