Susan Anderson institutes The Iron Horse Challenge endurance race

Taking a break for some food and water at The Iron Horse Challenge, Sept. 23 and 24, the endurance race, which began and ended on Susan Anderson’s ranch in Anza, values overall conditioning and finishing over winning? Lucy Gonzales photo

Local resident Susan Anderson is most recently well-known for her secret passion for art as the Anza Phantom Artist, having secretly painted and placed large colorful road signs all over the area. Besides being a vet and avid horsewoman, she recently organized and hosted a local equestrian event, The Iron Horse Challenge, which was held Sept. 23 and 24.

The Iron Horse Challenge was an “endurance race” and involved testing both rider and animal to the extremes without causing detrimental harm to either one. Vet techs were on hand during the event to check the well-being of the horses. Water and other essentials were provided at intervals during the competition. Generally, endurance races range from five or 10 miles to hundreds of miles long.

“I got involved with endurance back in 1991, when I lived in Northern California and became friends with Bobbie Haskall, who put on a ride every six months up at Whiskeytown Lake by Redding,” Anderson said. “First, I started vetting the rides for her, then I bought one of her horses and competed briefly. My first ride was a 50-mile ride, and I came in ninth out of 65 riders, I believe. What a kick! I was amazed and inspired. I have always loved this sport. It is lot more regulated and complex than people think, and when done properly is a wonderful example of how people and horses can work together to achieve amazing things.”

The slogan of the American Endurance Ride Conference is “To Finish is to Win,” which values the journey and finishing more than placement and winners.

The horses were vet-checked along the course, and emphasis is placed on their health and ability to perform without causing undue stress. Pushing an animal to exhaustion was not permitted. Horses even had to be at least 5 years old to compete, with their growing and formative years well behind them.

Anderson designed the courses and organized and hosted The Iron Horse Challenge endurance race, a two-day event featuring 55-mile, 35-mile and 25-mile races.

“’The Iron Horse Challenge’ is a name I came up with simply because our ranch name is Iron Horse Ranch, named after an iron horse sculpture I bought in Mexico 20 years ago and dragged up here on the back of a flatbed truck,” Anderson said.

Obtaining permission, permits and coordinating the event was no easy task, she said. Anderson had to secure special permits from the U.S. Forest Service, Riverside County and the Bureau of Land Management, as parts of the course meandered onto federal lands.

“This course that I came up with was a struggle from the get-go,” Anderson said. “The USFS was very concerned about sensitive species in our forests here, and it really took a lot of work hammering out a course that we could all live with. It took a whole year of negotiating. I was actually taken aback a bit when they gave us the permit.”

Competitors had 13 hours and 15 minutes to complete the 55-mile course. Karen Donley and her horse Aragorn won the race, with a time of only 6:31. Donley’s mount also received the Best Condition award.

For the 35-mile ride, Dan Johnson and his horse Airmail won with 3:26 and he also received the Best Condition award for that event.

The 25-mile race was won by Johnson’s partner Terry Castellano on her horse Forever Fibbin’ with a ride time of 2:36. Betsy Mongrain on her horse Hey Handsome received the Best Condition award.

“Hopefully, this will become an annual ride,” Anderson said. “We sure had a lot of wonderful people and volunteers, a village of experience and willing people who, without them, this could not have taken place.”

Competitors varied from a 15-year-old to riders well into their 60s.

“One of the things that I find so wonderful about this sport is that when done properly, it is a wonderful display of people and horses reaching their full God-given abilities, and it challenges them to do so,” Anderson said. “I love that. I love to see people, whoever they are and whatever they are reaching for, achieve goals and set new ones. You are never too old, it’s never too late and there is no such thing as failure … just lessons. See you on the trails next year!”

For more information on endurance racing, visit

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