The first travelers of the Santa Fe Trail found the journey to be a trying experience.
Competitors in the upcoming Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race might find not a whole lot has changed.
Rob Phillips is counting on it.
"It's going to be taxing," said Phillips, a Lawrence man who is the organizer for the 800-mile race to be held Sept. 1-15. "It's not going to be easy to do. People are going to work diligently on conditioning themselves and their horses. It's going to be a challenge."
Apparently, it's a challenge more than a few horsemen and -women are up for.
So far, Phillips has accepted entries from 76 riders - organized into 50 teams - for the race from Santa Fe, N.M., to Independence, Mo.
While it's a race first and foremost, Phillips - who also started the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade - chose the route as a way to call attention to the historic Santa Fe Trail, a historic wagon-train route across southwestern North America that connected Missouri with New Mexico that allowed trade with Mexico.
"There is an endurance-ride organization, and those people do 50-, 100-miles rides quite often, but I don't know of any 10-day rides," Phillips said. "I don't think there's anything like this. There's nothing where you go point to point. You just go in a circle.
"Ours is moving along the Santa Fe Trail. It's the magic of the Santa Fe Trail that has made this. Well, it's two things, the Santa Fe Trail and horses. I always believe horses are a tremendous draw to people."
Participants in the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race will convene in Santa Fe, N.M., on Sept. 1 and depart Sept. 3.
Ten of the next 13 days will be spent on the trail. Riders - solo, or in teams of up to four - will ride about 50 miles a day before spending the night in race villages, which are styled loosely after mini-Olympic villages.
There will be three rest days: two in Garden City, one in Council Grove.
"It's going to be extremely demanding," said Rick Lee, a veteran horseman from Adams, Neb., who has participated in several competitive trail rides, but nothing compared to the duration of the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race. "I have to be in good enough shape that I don't let the stiffness or any types of dehydration set in. You just have to be able to take a lot of vibration.
"My bones are going to creak, and I'll have muscle pain. And it's a mental-toughness thing. For a single rider like I am, it's going to be a real test."
That's precisely why Lee wants to give it a go.
He'll do a 50-mile tuneup in May in the Dodge City Shootout.
"I want to know what I'm made of," Lee said. "I feel I can handle it. When I was younger, I tried things like this. Now I'm in my middle 50s, and, fortunately, I've got the time I can give it a shot and see where I'm at. We'll see. If I can't go, I'll know I gave it all I had. If I can't go, it's because I'm physically and mentally done. I've got the horse."
The horses' fitness is a huge factor.
The animals must pass veterinarian checks along the way, and managing the horses' reserves could play a role in the outcome.
"All of us competing will start off at one time. The gun goes off, and we're off, let the chips fall where they may," Lee said. "If you're leading, you're the first one there. If you're in last place, you've gotta make up a lot of time, and you're going to have to push your horse harder. Chances are, passing the vet check will take longer, so that's the tradeoff."
Lee will ride an all-Morgan team, which he figures should help him on the Santa Fe Trail.
"Arabians notoriously have better endurance capacity. Arabians have larger lungs," he said. "But Morgans and mustangs have a lot of grit, a lot of heart. In a race like this, I think they have as much a chance of being on top as any."
Though Phillips started pulling the race together just over a year ago, it's beginning goes all the way back to 1848, when pioneer and trader Francis X. Aubry made a $1,000 wager he could ride the 800 miles of trail in six days.
He made it in five days, 16 hours.
"His saddle was soaked with blood, and they had to scrape him off his saddle," Phillips said. "He was a determined, tough little guy. But that got the thought process going. We can't do that, but we can rekindle this thing with horses and the Santa Fe Trail."
Thus, Phillips went to work, contacting cities along the route and rounding up sponsors.
The Imus Ranch - for children with cancer - will be the benefit charity.
The race counts among its sponsors the RFDTV network, and the United States Postal Service is among its partners. Even the Kansas Lottery, which created a Santa Fe Trail Horse Race scratch game, is on board.
"We've received tremendous amounts of interest," Phillips said. "We have entrants from 22 states, as far away as Florida and Oregon, Washington, California, Utah. We've been contacted by the United States Postal Service. We're working with them with their intellectual property, the Pony Express, which they own. There will be Pony Express ride stops along the way.
"I've been getting calls from around the country. We have by far exceeded what we've needed."
Sept. 1: Arrive and check in Santa Fe, N.M.Sept. 2: Ride meeting and preparation for start of ride. Overnight in Santa Fe, N.M.Sept. 3: Start ride. 50 miles. Overnight in Las Vegas, N.M.Sept. 4: Second day of riding. 50 miles. Overnight in Springer, N.M.Sept. 5: Third day of riding. 55 miles. Overnight in Clayton, N.M.Sept. 6: Fourth day of riding. 50 miles. Overnight in Elkhart.Sept. 7: No ride. Day off Move to and overnight in Dodge City.Sept. 8: No ride. Day off Overnight in Dodge City.Sept. 9: Fifth day of riding. 50 miles. Overnight in Larned.Sept. 10: Sixth day of riding. 55 miles. Overnight in Lyons.Sept. 11: Seventh day of riding 50 miles. Overnight in Council Grove.Sept. 12: No ride. Day Off. Overnight in Council Grove.Sept. 13: Eighth day of riding. 50 miles. Overnight in Burlingame.Sept. 14: Ninth day of riding. 50 miles. Overnight in Gardner.Sept. 15: Tenth day of riding. 55 miles. Overnight in Gardner; finish in Independence, Mo.