Succulent Gardening

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In my last post, I briefly mentioned I’ve taken up succulent gardening this spring. What turned into a side dabble quickly took on a life of its own as I delved deeper and deeper into the world of succulent varieties, and in more recent weeks, has proven to be a happy little sanctuary and positive focus for my brain as times get crazier and crazier, and I’ve even been able to get a lot of these little guys through mail order.

I’ve harbored a low-grade interest in succulents for years. They’ve fascinated me, the different colors, forms, and varieties, and I’ve experimented with trying to grow them here and there, with minimal degrees of success, mostly due to our largely inhospitable summers around Phoenix and the fact that most plants don’t like to be cooked.

I started my first succulents over 20 years ago, when my parents were putting our backyard pond in, and I wanted something to call “my own” in the yard…so I ended up with a little pot of a mixed variety of succulents, and one tiny standalone pot containing a teeny little “ponytail palm.” And 20 years later, that palm is still around, as is one of the original selections — a haworthia that has since produced 3 full pots of propagated offshoots, and dozens more random ones.

Last spring, a family trip to one of the Phoenix garden nurseries netted another round of succulent buying. By the end of the summer, I hadn’t had the best of luck with my selections all making it through, but I had a small pot with a few different varieties that had survived.

What I started with last summer, around Memorial Day

Winter 2019-2020 start

Late 2019/Early 2020: What survived. The only thing that survived from the original selections above is the few scraps of crassula/jade plant (bright green). The silvery-blue and the small spiky green got added in later in the summer. This is what I started the year with.

This spring, my parents gave me an adorable “Donkey Tail” sedum for Valentine’s Day.

Sedum morganianum -- Donkey's Tail

Sedum morganianum — Donkey’s Tail

This adorable plant really perked me up — I was still in a funk regarding endurance, and a funny little cheerful plant was exactly what I needed. Looking up info about it sent me spiraling down a rabbit-hole of interesting and unusual succulent varieties, and the next thing I knew, my mom and I were packing into my truck and hopping over to one of our local nurseries for a bit of combination garden and retail therapy. (Which also involved the addition of a very unique Australian Finger Lime tree to the yard as well.)

That trip netted me one of my favorites in my collection, a “string of dolphins.”

Senecio peregrinus -- String of Dolphins

Senecio peregrinus — String of Dolphins

As I briefly mentioned in covering my trip to Florida for the AERC convention, I love the ocean, and I love marine life. Little known fact: In elementary school, I wanted to be a marine biologist. In 5th grade, I was even part of the school’s “Oceanography” club. Unfortunately for me, I have a rather strong aversion to going underwater, so that kind of derailed that idea.

Anyway, moving on…since that trip, it’s turned into a spring of succulent collecting, to where I have the entire garden cart shelf at the top pic of this post pretty much totally filled, and another smaller pot as the centerpiece of the patio table.

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I’ve had very good luck with two local nurseries — Summer Winds and Whitfill, for anyone in the East Valley area. I’ve also snagged a couple from Trader Joe’s, of all places — they usually have a display of mixed succulent/cactus varieties in the late spring/early summer.

Online, my sources have been:

Mountain Crest Gardens
Succulents Box
Leaf & Clay

I’ve ordered the most from MCG, but have multiple plants from each source, and have thus far been very happy with all of them. All of them have sent healthy plants, have been packaged well (I think MCG wins for the best packaging jobs, though), everything has survived shipping, turnaround has been quick, and all have a good variety and selection.

I’m not an expert — I pick stuff out based on the highly scientific “oh, that’s pretty!” or “oh, look how funky that one is!” methods. As a rule, I avoid anything that’s a hardcore spiky cactus (I have one spiky cactus, and it lives over by the fishpond, completely out of anyone’s travel path), mostly because I hate picking cactus spines out of my clothing/skin. Some of these, I have no idea how they’ll survive the summer. I’m hoping because I got them in much earlier this year, they’ll have several months to establish themselves before the hot weather really hits.

This is my current line-up as of the end of March 2020, put together mostly as a reference for myself and a reminder of what exactly I’ve got out in my garden. There’s a few mystery varieties in there as well, so if anyone knows specifics, please let me know!

Hope everyone enjoyed my little detour away from all things equine-related, and a peek at one non-horsey element of my life. I’ll update later this summer as to what has survived/thrived…as well as what other new additions may have shown up.

2020 AERC Convention

Has anyone checked the receipt to see if the year 2020 is eligible for a 90-day return? Or any kind of extended warranty policy? Because if so, I’d like to get in line for that, thanks.

I’m glad that Convention happened before all of the Covid-19 stuff really hit the fan. I am already a work-from-home introvert with anti-social tendencies, so was well-set in that regard. However, I am practicing a lot of Social MEDIA Distancing, and have done a thorough “Marie Kondo’ing” of my Facebook feed in order to retain a little bit of joy, sanity, and sensibility in the current climate, and to still be talking to people on the other side of all of this. I can’t get rid of social media entirely, since that is a large part of my job, but I can take steps to protect my own mental well-being. In the meantime, I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to succulent gardening. When people annoy me, I go play with my plants.

I also haven’t felt much like blogging. Since Tonto Twist and the catastrophic implosion of my plans/goals for the endurance season, I’ve been having a hard time mustering up my fairly typical optimism and good cheer, and my endurance mojo had flat out left the building. I had been feeling sorry for myself and throwing a self pity party over my bad luck with endurance, and my seemingly constant uphill struggles to make any kind of significant achievement or progress in this sport. In addition, major drama, upheaval, conflict, and pettiness happening in the sport and in my own state left me waffling between heartsick and angry.

Leading up to Convention, I felt stressed and frazzled, second-guessing my plans and prep for my trade show display, wishing as always that I had come up with something “cleverer” or more unique, or that I was a better graphic designer, or that I had thought of some of my last-minute ideas earlier when I still had time to implement them…you get the picture. All of that added up to that basically, until my butt was actually on the airplane seat, I hadn’t been all that excited about it. However, it ended up being a really, really good time, and I actually wrapped up the weekend in way better spirits that I started.

And then all the CovidCrap hit the fan, derailed plans left and right and all around, and made me very glad that for years now, we’ve already bought our toilet paper in bulk.

Anyway, before too much time passes, I figured I had better get something posted (and still gotta keep that “post a month streak alive…”) about Convention. As I mentioned, I am really glad I had that time, and crammed in some really fun activities and good memories to sustain me with so much of life up in the air right now.

Anyway, that wraps things up for now…hope everyone stays healthy, stays safe…and if anyone finds out anything on a refund for 2020, let me know.

Gardens and Seahorses

With two days left to go in the month, I was thisclose to breaking my “at least one post a month” streak that I’ve had going since August 2011. It was tempting. My blog content is decidedly ‘endurance lite’ right now, at least as far as the actual riding part. I’m still managing to stay involved with endurance, via the AZ Endurance Riders Club activities (and running the website and social media), and I’ll be volunteering at the Wickenburg ride this weekend.

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Getting more and more official all the time: We have club shirts now.

But there’s an aspect there that is a bit of a dual-edged sword. It’s great to have ways to stay involved and active…but it also stings to be involved, but not on the riding front. I keep reminding myself that this is nothing new for me — I don’t think “consistency” can be applied in any way, shape, form, or definition to describing my endurance “career,” such as it is, over the years.

So right now, I’m just not thinking about endurance a ton.

Earlier in the month, I went up to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. It’s been an almost-annual tradition ever since I was little, and it made an early impression on me in terms of the beauty and spirit of Arabians. It also left a lingering dream and desire to some day show at Scottsdale. Never mind I don’t have an Arabian. But being up there this year really re-ignited that particular dream, and I realized I actually miss showing. I miss the fuss and the bother, the ritual and routine. I don’t miss my tall English field boots, though.

But my dime store psychology, combined with some peanut butter whiskey, netted me the epiphany that I think what I really miss is being that good at something, that successful. Mimi and I put in the work, and there’s boxes of trophies and ribbons stacked up in my closet to prove it.

Right now, endurance just has me feeling a bit defeated.

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Watching the Western Dressage classes. This handsome guy is VA Ralvon Crusader. I’ve followed him with some interest on Facebook for a while now, and it was delightful to meet him in person. He is sweet, kind, and has knock-your-socks-off good conformation. Wouldn’t mind owning one of his offspring.

So I spent a couple days at the Arab Show, admiring the sleek and shiny show ponies…and then I got to go groom my yak.

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Seriously. The shedding. It’s epic.

No worries about this one retaining her coat or anything like that…she might have grown an impressive coat this year, but she’s dumping it by the handful and can’t get rid of it fast enough. (My pony is a better forecaster than some old groundhog…I believe her and her shedding patterns as to if we have an early spring or not.)

Last weekend, Saturday featured some major rain.

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Spoiler Alert: It was not delicate.

Despite what my snarky weather app tried to convince me of, it was neither “light” nor “delicate.” Instead, the end result was enough water to leave the arena at the barn almost entirely under standing water.

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“I am NOT a seahorse.”

Mimi was not amused by my “water aerobics” exercise session. Princess is not a seahorse, and Princess does not like getting wet or splashed, so doing trot sets through several inches of water was not her idea of fun.

She was also feeling good enough to crowhop under saddle, which she hasn’t done since she was about…I don’t know, maybe 10? Glad that at almost-27, she’s still feeling that sassy. Took me totally by surprise, and all I could do was laugh. By the time I gathered my wits about me enough to realize, “uh, my pony is crowhopping, I should probably address that…” she had desisted her shenanigans on her own, but it still shocked me. It’s no wonder that some of the Arabs I’ve ridden don’t really faze me…at some point, there’s probably been some Pony-equivalent behavior I’ve already survived.

I also spring-cleaned down at the barn, organizing both my tack trunk and my storage cabinet. Everything got sorted, old stuff got tossed, cobwebs got swept out, several black widows got relocated to another plane of existence, shelves got fixed, and I have some semblance of organization happening again.

I’m also very proud of my leg-wrap storage system, set up to allow wraps to hang to dry, as well as have their own storage space that doesn’t involve them being tossed unceremoniously on top of my grooming tote.

I also did a bit of retail therapy. Because what else do you do when you’re beyond frustrated with endurance but buy more endurance gear? (I already know I’m impossible, you don’t have to tell me.)

I have a fondness for laced English reins, due to years of showing huntseat…but leather + endurance don’t mix. Plus, I like cleaning leather saddles…I hate cleaning leather bridles & reins. My plastic tack has me spoiled. But a query to Hought Tack, on whether they could do their beta English reins that were laced with ‘roo leather as endurance reins (snaps on the ends, no center buckle) netted me this gorgeous pair. They look cool, and they feel really good, too. And the ‘roo leather is super durable and holds up to all the sweat and dirt. Yay, best of both worlds.

I’ve also been on a non-stop quest to find the perfect saddle packs, and I just may have found them. Longer review to follow, but after two short rides, I am in love with these True Grit saddle packs. The maker of them doesn’t have a website yet, but I can put you in touch with her if you’re curious. They truly don’t bounce, and attach and sit on the saddle in such a way they sit above the horse’s shoulder.

And finally, I’ve been throwing some of my focus on the backyard at home. 20-something years ago, my parents transformed our suburban postage stamp backyard into a tropical paradise, complete with fishpond for exotic goldfish, and dozens of varieties of different plants. This was before horses totally and completely ruled my life, so most weekends were spent going around to various and sundry plant nurseries around the Valley. I loved getting involved with the fish pond part of things, especially picking out the fish, but my pre-teen self only had so much (very marginal) interest in the gardening part of things. I appreciate how it looked, but tending plants was not my cup of tea, aside from giving benign neglect to the little pot of succulents I decided to grow. (Incidentally, two of which are still alive, and one of which has propagated like crazy and I’m running out of room to stick all of its offspring.)

Well, fast-forward a couple decades later, and I think I’m starting to uncover my latent green thumb. Or at least attempting to. Over the last few years, I’ve started taking more of an interest in some of the garden stuff, like growing our own nasturtiums (and harvesting the seeds, saving them, and planting them the following year), and last year, really got more into it again with another pot of succulents, and helping tend to the veggies Mom planted.

And this year, I’m having a hard time staying out of the yard. I’ve gone a bit succulent crazy, two mail orders of little succulents on their way to me as I type this, in addition to the few new ones I’ve already added.

Playing in the yard is a really good mental distraction, it gives me something to do, and it makes me feel productive. There’s also a combination of instant and delayed gratification at work. Instant gratification that comes from cleaning up a spot that needed work, or the satisfaction of tearing down and pruning things. Delayed gratification in seeing plants grow, and thrive, and the enjoyment of being able to harvest some fresh veggies and fruit.

Keeping my fingers crossed, but it looks like that gardening gene I was skeptical about inheriting actually may not have skipped a generation.

Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50 2020

Sometimes, I think my (endurance) life plays out as one continuous episode of “man plans, God laughs.” I mean, I know I’m not unique in that regard — spend any time talking to any endurance rider behind the scenes, and the actual reality of what is going on often times only bears marginal resemblance to the social media reality that is presented to the public at large. (I get it, I do the same thing…my social media posts try to be positive and low-drama, with a healthy dose of “don’t make my problems and dirty laundry other people’s problem.”) But endurance is definitely a sport filled with mountain highs and valley lows (and I’m not just talking about the trails), and it takes a certain level of mental fortitude and tenacity to not just finish rides, but to stick with the sport through the ups and downs, and the inevitable disappointments as well as the successes.

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photo by Susan Kordish

That was a bit of foreshadowing that Tonto Twist, and subsequently, Project Ridgecrest, did not exactly go according to plan when Atti and I finished all 50 miles at Tonto Twist…and then got pulled at the finish for lameness. Pulls are never fun, especially the finish line ones, and this one just really stings because I felt like I did everything so right. The whole ride, and the training and lead-up to it, was so well executed…hit all the checkboxes of strategic, targeted training and coaching, smooth planning and prep, nailed my ride-day pacing, electrolyting, and ride plan…and it still went sideways in the end. After a while, it’s hard to not feel a bit discouraged and disheartened.

So with all that as a preface…onward to the actual ride story. I absolutely adore the Tonto Twist ride, which is saying something since I am currently 0/2 in finishing it. I love that it’s in my favorite mountains in the state — the Superstitions — so it is super-scenic, and I know the trails and area really well. It’s also impeccably managed, with ride manager Lancette Koerner doing her all to put on a total frills ride, with all kinds of creature comfort (for both the two-legged and four-legged participants), including plenty of checkpoints and water stops with hay, and people snacks/water. The trails are a fun mix of some technical stuff, some jeep roads, some beautiful single-track, and overall really good footing, more than enough to make up for the couple of slower-going sections. It’s also well-marked, and in addition to traditional ribbon markings, she employs the Ride With GPS app (think, “vehicle navigation system, but for trails”) as an additional navigation option (this is a heavily-trafficked area and we share the trails with Jeeps, ATVs, hikers, runners, mountain bikers, and casual trail riders, so the possibility of ribbon removal, be it accidental or less well-intentioned, is very real).

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Scenes from the trail: this is the view partway through loop 2.
The Superstition Mountains.

It’s pretty much a “backyard” ride for me — base camp is about 30 minutes from my house, and about 25 minutes from the boarding stable. So it makes for super-convenient travel, as well as not having to have a ton of prep done days ahead of time. Which is just as well, after the weather turned cold, cloudy, and windy on Thursday ahead of the ride, which is when I had planned to bathe and clip Atti. Those plans got fast-forwarded to Friday morning, and I showed up at the barn in the horse clipping equivalent of hazmat gear, in an attempt to avoid having to dig horse hair out of my bra for the next several days. (It actually worked, and after a quick change of clothes, I was horsehair-free for the rest of the weekend, without having to worry about heading back home to shower/change.)

In relatively short order I had Atti’s neck/chest clipped, gave him a quick spray-down, tossed the last of his feed and hay into the trailer, filled the water tank, did the aforementioned clothing change, and we hit the road, for a just-after-noon arrival into base camp at the Apache Junction Rodeo Grounds.

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Clipped, braided, and only looking slightly-grubby…good enough, for a grey horse in the wintertime. Saddle area is clean, at least.

Camp set-up was quick — hang hay bags, fill water bucket, swing out high-tie and attach pony…done. Ride packets and all of the maps via Ride With GPS had been emailed to us days prior, so I just had to quickly head over to check-in to get my vet card, then gather up Atti and go vet in.

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Shout-out to Flik Equestrian for the fabulous polo shirt. I’ve been wearing these shirts at rides since last year, and always get comments on them. So if you guys like them…grab them while you can. Designs are all limited editions, typically released quarterly, or thereabouts.

Part of what I’ve worked on with him during “winter training camp” has been trot-outs. Atti’s general outlook on trot-outs at rides is, “Why bother?” so I wanted to sharpen that up and see if we couldn’t improve his attitude and impulsion scores on his vet cards. After every ride, and pretty much every time I would handle him in-hand, we would work on a trot-out — especially at the end of a ride, when he was ready to be done.

It definitely worked, because through the whole ride, he did some very nice trot-outs — matching his shoulder with mine, good forward impulsion, not dragging behind and looking like he’d rather be anywhere but there at that moment.

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Ok, still a little bit sleepy. Can’t totally eliminate the self-preservation factor. But much improved, and very self-contained and controllable — didn’t have to worry about “flying an Arabian kite in-hand.”

He vetted in great, so after that it was time to head out for a bit of a leg stretch and pre-ride. All 3 loops come back into camp essentially the same way — identical on loops 1 and 2 for the last mile and half between the last checkpoint and camp, but then the third loop tacked on an extra mile that took you off the common trail and back into camp a more circuitous route. He was quite lit up and rather spooky out there — uncharacteristic of him, normally, but I had been finding more and more layers to this horse the more I worked with him, and he definitely had no qualms with testing me and challenging me along the way. But we all survived, and I clung to my old theater superstition that “a bad dress rehearsal meant a great performance.”

I had also been waffling back and forth on which headgear to use. I had been mostly running him in a bit with a running martingale, to encourage him to use his body better and not emulate a giraffe…but he is also prone to a bit rub on the corner of his mouth, despite me slathering him in every single no-rub concoction out there. Our last training ride, I had taken him out in his s-hackamore, to see if he had earned his hack privileges back again, and he was very well-behaved, so the hack got added back to the rotation. And then the pre-ride happened, and I was having serious misgivings about starting the ride in just the hack. But I also wasn’t sure about the bit. My favorite approach is to start a ride in a bit, and then switch to the hack as soon as I possibly can, usually at the first vet check, but in this case, the first loop was 30 miles before we would be back to camp.

Ultimately, I shelved the decision for the afternoon, and would make up my mind in the morning, and got down to the serious business of Mad Scientist Endurance Chemistry, aka mixing electrolytes, before the potluck dinner and ride meeting.

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Part of the Mad Scientist’s lab. Not pictured are the mixing/buffering agents of applesauce and Gastro-Ade. I used the soft flasks from one of my running vests to carry them in my saddle pack and it worked perfectly. And those drenching syringes are the best thing ever for dosing fussy ponies. I was already pretty good at dosing reluctant syringe-takers, but these make the job super easy.

The potluck dinner spread was plentiful and yummy, and because a lot of the information had been sent out ahead of time, the ride meeting was able to be kept fairly short and sweet. Critical info for the next day included: 3 loops of 30, 13.5, and 6.5 miles, respectively; ride start time (7am); ribbon colors for each loop (pink; orange/white; lime green); hold times (1 hour after loop 1; a gate-and-go pulse down and trot-by between loops 2/3); and vet criteria (60 all day). I had done the inaugural Tonto Twist ride two years ago, volunteered it last year, and as mentioned, it’s practically in my backyard, so I have been riding various bits and pieces of the ride trails for years now. Which meant I was pretty comfortable with the flow of the trails, and had a pretty good idea of how it would pace out — which is huge for me, because I have struggled with learning to consistently pace endurance rides for years.

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The maps/tracks from all three loops.

After a bit of post-briefing socializing, I headed off to bed in my cozy nest in the back of the Suburban. Toss an air mattress down, and my warm sleeping bag, couple fleecy blankets, and I was warm and comfortable all night long. I actually managed to sleep pretty well for a pre-ride night, and before I knew it, my alarm was going off at 4:30 to crawl out and give Atti breakfast. For me, once I’m awake, I’m awake for good, so there’s no sense in trying to go back to bed — but it means I have time to slowly get ready, make and sip my coffee, nibble on my own breakfast, and not feel rushed.

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Almost all dressed and ready to go, just need to bridle him and pull his sheet I had tossed back on over the saddle.

Ultimately I decided to start him with his bit, slather his mouth with anti-rub cream, and carry the little tub of cream with me and slather his mouth at every stop. Best I could do, and I really wanted the extra fine-tuned communication I got from him with the bit.

(Was I glad I did this? Ultimately, yes. He did come off the first loop with a nice little rub on the corner of his mouth, but there were a couple times early on that he tried a head flipping/tossing trick that probably would have otherwise given me dental work or a nose job if he hadn’t hit the end of the running martingale first. He is small, compact, and with that shorter neck, his head is right there at my face, so there is not a lot of margin of error for shenanigans. )

He was nice and calm, both for getting ready as well as warming up before the start — none of the antics from the Estrella ride last month carried forward, thankfully. But as soon as the ride started, he was ready to move. We headed out pretty much in the middle of the pack, with the sun just starting to lighten the horizon, and create enough ambient light to not have to worry about headlamps or glowsticks, and with the handy little Ride With GPS voice yapping its directions at me, there were no issues with navigating the early miles even in low light.

The first few miles is pretty easy-going, with a few gentle rolling ups and down, and mostly really good footing. It was also trail we had ridden just a couple weeks prior, so Atti knew exactly where we were and what the trail was like, so I spent quite a bit of the time persuading him to slow his roll and hold to a steady trot. Fortunately, about 5 miles or so in, the trail hits the much more technical sections, with one climb in there that will definitely curb their enthusiasm. (Check out my ride story from 2018 for the ride photos that are taken partway up this climb if you want an idea of what it looks like, and also for more pictures of this first loop…because I actually had my hands way more full this year and got way fewer pictures.)

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Up on a ridgeline, looking down on part of the Valley and the early morning sunrise colors.

As mentioned, I didn’t take a ton of pics in this section. After the rains we had this past summer and earlier this winter, the rocks have been breeding and multiplying, and there were a number of sections that were very technical, that involved clambering over large chunks of slick, exposed rock…with a pony who did not want to “slow his roll” or have much semblance of self-preservation. We were riding by ourselves, and I think that just taps his competitive juices. Riding with a buddy, he’s pretty content to stick with them, but on his own, he just wants to fly down the open trail…and he just can’t do that. I mean, he theoretically could, but the point of this whole exercise is for me to be the brains of the operation and stick to a responsible, reasonable pace and try to explain to him why dancing on rocks is a Really. Bad. Idea.

Of course, right about the time I was slowing up our pace to navigate through the trickiest areas was when some faster riders who had started behind us caught up to us, and then the debate over pacing and sticking to our own space bubble was really on. I had more than one “Jesus, take the wheel” moment as I listened to Atti’s shoes clatter and scramble through and over the exposed rock sections, trying to just keep myself balanced and stay out of his way.

It was actually a relief to get out of the technical wash and onto the 5 miles of hard-packed, rocky road that runs through the mountains and connects over to Bulldog Canyon (or, as ride manager Lancette puts it in the Ride With GPS directions, “Be grateful, this road is what allows this ride to happen.”).

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It might be slower-going in sections on this road, but the views are incredible.

Finally, the road connected down to Bulldog Wash, which was in the best shape I’ve seen in years. Washes can go one of two ways in AZ when it rains…they either lose some of their sand, or they gain more of it. In this case, I think Bulldog lost some of its sand, and between the rain and the jeep/ATV traffic, there were some nice, packed-down lines of travel through the sand that were absolutely perfect footing. We trotted, then bumped up to a couple of brief canter sections, enough for both of us to blow off a bit of the frustration we were feeling at each other after the last few miles.

Coming into the first water stop and checkpoint at mile 12, I jumped off, Atti drank, I electrolyted him, hopped back on, and continued on our way. The nice thing about the water stop was we got our space bubble back, and the next 4 miles were delightful. The direction we were traveling Bulldog Canyon was a long, gradual uphill, but with really good footing…so tempting to just let them move out, but this was one time it was really advantageous to know the trail and know how deceiving of a section it would be for difficult, so I really reeled Atti’s pace back in again and made sure to enforce some walking breaks along the way.

The next checkpoint was at 16 miles, with more water, hay, carrots, and people water and snacks. I handed Atti off to a volunteer, ducked behind a bush to recycle the morning coffee, then while he drank and ate, I refilled my water bottles, ate a granola bar, then electrolyted him again and headed out. The trail took us up into Usery Mountain Park, and lots of beautiful single-track.

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Elevation is still high enough to be above the Valley at this point.

Usery is a pretty and well-used park, so we did the usual “sharing the trails with hikers, runners, and mountain bikers” routine. Old hat for both Atti and myself, and there were all kinds of signs and notifications posted in and around the park about the “endurance horse event” that would be taking place on the trails that day. I didn’t have any issues with any of the trail users…everyone was really courteous and stepped off to the side, and I made a point to slow down, not run them over, greet them, and thank them. Not difficult to be a good ambassador for both the sport and equine trail users.

Partway through the park, we had another checkpoint, but before that…ride photographers! Sue and John Kordish were both out, cameras at the ready, and I’m pretty pleased with how my ride photos turned out. Especially since we were still in the middle of pace negotiations, and I was grumbling under my breath about overnight pony-brain-eating zombie apocalypses. The photo at the top of this post is from Sue, and the one below is from John. They always get really good photos, and I’m so happy they cover so many of our AZ rides.

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Photo by John Kordish

Another checkpoint and water stop at 20 miles…Atti drank like a fish, snacked on some alfalfa, another bit of electrolytes, and away we go again. The next section, I was totally alone again, and it was a blast. The trail is smooth single-track with great footing and flow, with the biggest obstacle being the cholla cactus forests you wind around and through.

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Fortunately, the cholla had been cleared away enough so that it was easy to avoid them.

Eventually the trail lead us out of the park, where we then picked up the road/trail that lead up across a couple of roads and into the 28-mile checkpoint at Prospector Park. Another good drink for Atti, and a couple minutes to much some hay. We were only a couple miles out from camp, so it was worth taking the extra time to get some food into him to ensure good gut sounds by the time we hit camp. Leaving Prospector, we picked up the trail we had pre-ridden the day prior, and Atti was all business cruising back into camp. Once ride camp was in sight, I hopped off and jogged him the rest of the way in, loosening his girth, pulling his bit, and starting to unclip tack as we went.

Cristina, who came down for the day to crew along with her friend Victoria (the idea being to treat this as a “dry run” test crewing prior to 20 Mule Team), met us at the in-timer and we quickly yanked his tack and checked his pulse. He was down, so I immediately headed over to pulse, and then vet in. My goal for this first loop had been to do it in 5 hours…our pulse time? 11:59, which meant a time of 4:59 for the first loop. Guess I’m figuring out this pacing thing. :))

He vetted through brilliantly, with all As, good gut sounds, a very nice trot-out, and a CRI of 52/48, and then my lovely crew (such a novelty to have crew…I could get used to this!) trundled him and the tack back to the trailer while I swung over to grab my ride-provided lunch, which was another really nice perk to this ride — between the Friday potluck dinner, provided lunch on Saturday, and chance to buy dinner at the Saturday evening awards, I hardly had to do any meal prep or cooking this time.

The luxury of crew meant I got to sit and eat my lunch and enjoy a few minutes of downtime while they fussed over and pampered Atti, providing him with a buffet of food options to tempt his picky palate, cool wrapping his legs, and cleaning up with worst of the sweat and grubbiness that had been accrued over the past 30 miles. My saddle pack got replenished with fresh waters, snacks, and electrolytes, the saddle went back on, he got his electrolytes, and I decided he could have his hackamore privileges back. We were at the out-timer a couple of minutes ahead of my out-time, so Atti stuffed in a few more last-minute bites of alfalfa, and then we were on our way for loop two.

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Some easy cruising miles on forest service roads early on in loop two.

The first several miles followed the same out trail as loop one, then veered eastward to head in the opposite direction of the morning loop. This loop wouldn’t take us quite as deep into the Goldfields, but we still did a bit of climbing before dropping back down and starting to circle back towards camp. This portion of the trail also overlooked and ran right by the Goldfield Ghost Town, which is a good chunk of Arizona mining history right there.

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Up on more ridgelines, heading into the Goldfields before circling back around towards camp.

We had pre-ridden all but the last few miles of this loop a couple weeks prior, so Atti knew exactly where he was, and was more than happy to cruise through this loop, still going through negotiations as to speed, and his desire for more of it.

We reached the water stop and checkpoint about 9 miles into this loop and he dove into the water, drank really well, and when he showed interest in the hay piles, I gave him a few minutes to stuff his face before electrolyting him and continuing back down the trail. Another few miles brought us back around and into the Prospector Park checkpoint again and another quick stop for a drink and more hay, and then onto the repeat trail back into camp.

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I don’t mind repeat trail when it has views like this.

This time, we didn’t have any kind of hold back in camp — just a gate and go check of a pulse down and trot-by. Once camp was in site, I hopped off, loosened his girth, and jogged him in, pausing briefly at the trough outside of camp for him to tank up. Cristina and Victoria met me again, checked his pulse, said he was down, so we went over to the pulse-takers. They confirmed he was down, we went over to the vet for a quick check and trot-out, was pronounced “looking good and good to go.” I gave him a couple more minutes to eat some more hay and mash, electrolyted him, checked in with the out-timers, and hopped back on. I fully expected him to reluctantly stroll out of camp…after all, this was the third loop, and we were following the same trail out again. So imagine my surprise when, on his own volition, he picked up a canter as soon as we were clear of the timers, and merrily cantered his way out to the trail…and then chucked in a little crowhop of protest when I had the nerve to hold him back and not let him go racing off down the now-familiar out-trail.

This final loop was a little over 6 miles, and stuck to the fairly flat and easygoing desert floor. The first 2 miles were the same as the first two loops, then the trail veered off and took us directly over to Prospector Park. We had most of this loop all to ourselves, and he was really relaxed and settled, easily trotting along, walking through any of the downhill or rocky stuff. One last stop in Prospector Park, another drink, and he was so ravenous that I let him stay for a few more minutes to munch hay before heading out to the last few miles of trail.

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Last turn towards camp…or not…

On this third loop, it does a bit of a cruel mind-twist. The mile or so past Prospector is the same, but right about when camp is in sight, the trail turns off and angles you out away from camp for an extra mile or so. Atti was not amused by this turn of events, and I basically had to ride my left rein and right leg for the next half mile or so to keep him from cutting his own shortcut through the desert back to camp. There was a circuitous meander around the perimeter of the overflow parking lot of the rodeo grounds, and then we were at the finish line. My goal for a ride time had been 9 hours (not counting hold times), and I believe we came in just a little ahead of that.

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Still powering along at the finish. Photo by Sue Kordish.

Cristina and Victoria jumped into action, pulling his tack as he ravenously plowed through a pile of alfalfa. His pulse was still a bit above parameters since I had trotted in (and he was fighting me to go faster the whole way), so we gave him a couple of minutes to eat and pulse down, then we headed over to vet.

Vet parameters were all looking good…slightly quiet on guts, but the way he was stuffing the food in on the third loop and when we came in, I didn’t think they would stay that way for long, and As on everything else. Pulse was low — 44 by the time the vet checked it. And then we trotted out. And as soon as I saw him drop back and his head bob, my heart shattered into a thousand pieces.  I think at that very moment I knew we were done, but I still trotted him all the way up, and back, hoping he might have just taken an off step and would work out of it, but I knew before we even got back to the vet. Unfortunately, he was mildly but consistently off on every stride, which is an automatic pull — not “fit to continue” at the finish.

The vet did take the time to look him over, but she couldn’t feel anything or elicit any particular reaction from him at the time. She was pretty sure it was left front, which, unfortunately, had been the leg of concern after comments of “something intermittent” at a ride last year.

Since the barn was so close, it made way more sense to wrap up and head home later that evening, versus camping overnight, so we got Atti’s legs iced, poulticed, and wrapped and got camp packed up, then he got to hang out and work on re-hydrating and replenishing his food stores while we all went to the awards dinner (delicious Indian fry bread tacos). After dinner wrapped up, I dropped him and the trailer off at the barn, then headed home for my own bed.

The Follow-Up: Since this was now a recurring issue, Cristina opted to bring the vet out for a lameness evaluation and imaging. Long story short, Atti has an injury to the upper suspensory, and it has likely been something that’s been somewhat ongoing. When I asked the vet if we could have done anything different, or what might have caused it, his response was, “bad luck.” Cristina said I rode a perfect ride, and read me the riot act when I started second-guessing myself and feeling guilty. But that’s what I do. I second-guess. I look back and wonder what I could have done different, and kick myself for another pull on someone else’s horse on my watch.

The frustrating part is I really feel like I actually did everything so right, and the ride itself was so well-executed. It involved a lot of managing on my part in terms of keeping his enthusiasm contained and not letting him just blow through the whole thing. We came in solidly middle of the pack, with vet scores and pulse rates that indicated he still had plenty in the tank, drinking like a fish and finally discovering a good appetite. I feel like all the boxes got checked, pacing was probably the most spot-on I’ve ever been, felt like I was so contentious about getting it right…and it still didn’t work.

A friend made a comment to me Saturday night at the dinner, that I “just have the worst luck ever.” Gee, thanks. I try not to feed negative self-fulfilling prophecies, but at this point, I’m not sure what else to think. Right now, I just feel disheartened. Endurance is the biggest yo-yo for me…right about the time I get into a rhythm, something bobbles and it smacks me in the face. As is oft-repeated in the household…”Horses are not for the faint of heart.” And I think that goes doubly-so for endurance.

A Quick Gear Rundown

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We look like a walking gear advertisement, in a good way.
photo by Bonnie Miller

I love my Frank Baines Reflex saddle. Technically it is a monoflap dressage saddle, but it’s got all the extra d-rings and attachments to make it a very useful dressage saddle. It, combined with a couple of coaching sessions courtesy of my friend Tammy Gagnon, made all the difference in the world in my position and effectiveness, and I didn’t feel like I was constantly fighting to not be hunched over and braced for the entire 50 miles. I have a fleece seat cover on it right now, but the jury is still out on whether or not that’s actually needed.

The D-Lua Park Pure Wool Saddlecloth was a Christmas present and it just may be my new favorite piece of tack in my life. It is soft, fluffy, super-pliable, and doesn’t clump or get frizzy when it’s washed. (I’m looking at you, Woolback pads.)

The Total Saddle Fit SLIM Leathers really do make a difference in leg stability, and really make a difference in the pressure across my shins. Finally, I could ride in English leathers without ending up with massive bruises across my shins.

Plain black Zilco tack set is part of my tack rotation. Because I love my colors, but sometimes, plain black is the ticket for the day. Especially when you’re riding a “cute” gelding that people have a tendency to mistakenly call “she.” (Breastcollar, HalterBridle, Grip Reins, Martingale)

Fager bit for the first loop, a-hackamore for the second and third loops.

Bare Equestrian tights. Love. Super comfortable, slight compression. Sticky bum and knees that came in handy a few times. They do come in non-sticky varieties as well…I have a couple pairs of both the sticky and non-stick, and tend to wear the non-stick ones even for non-horse-related daily wear.

New Years at Picketpost

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“Start as you mean to continue.”

I generally try to avoid being too superstitious…but that is one I try to adhere to every year — the idea that what you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll do the rest of the year.

So I took my pony on a ride.

And hopefully that translates into “get to go do plenty of endurance rides” for the rest of year. But in the meantime, I enjoyed a beautiful, Arizona winter day, on my spitfire of a pony who was two handfuls’ worth of sass and spirit, acting not at all like her turning-27-years-old-this-year age.

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Still the Most Adorable Endurance Pony (retired), all geared up and sporting our Christmas present — a D-Lua Park saddle pad

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“Come on, let’s gooooo!!!!!” The Patented Pony Side-Eye.

We’ve ridden Arnett Canyon before (shortly after Ney Year’s last year, in fact), and it’s a really fun trail. Some technical stuff, both manmade waterbars/steps in and out of the water crossings, and natural rock ledges and outcroppings to be navigated…and depending on the time of year, lots of water crossings. I lost track of how many water crossings we ended up doing, including a couple that were deep enough to be past Mimi’s knees, and my feet and lower legs got splashed a number of times.

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Such an interesting microclimate back in the canyon. Saguaros and ocotillo collide with cottonwoods, sycamores, and water.

It was a good, 8-mile stretch, and Mimi was still being a fire-breathing dragon at the end. She is still so strong, I forget how much of a workout it is when she’s that on and in bulldozer mode, when I have to really work to not let her plow through on her forehand through all of the technical, tricky bits. I’m pretty sure the catch-ride Arabs are actually an easier ride than her. Love her, though, and she’s certainly made me a better rider and has made me work for it along the way.

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The 2020 offering of my current blog header. I try to capture this particular pic/angle whenever I’m out there, because it looks so different depending on the season and time of day.