25 Mimi Moments

In honor on Mimi’s 25th birthday this past weekend, I’d like to present, in no particular order:

“25 Mimi Moments: The good, bad, and random (because there’s no ugly about her)”

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Still one of the best days of my life: When this little grey mare came into it. I still get butterflies and chills thinking about it. The annual POA sale is run as an auction format, and my parents and I went back to Iowa with a list of ponies in the sale catalog to look at. Mimi was all of our first choice…and she’s been my #1 ever since.

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Little known fact: My father actually picked Mimi out. She grabbed his attention right from the get-go on our first time even skimming through the sale catalog, and she was the first horse we even crossed paths with at the sale when he saw her out in a warm-up ring being ridden by her owner. He’s got a major soft spot for that little pony, and she’s quite fond of him.

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We have a complicated relationship with jumping. When she was “on” she was a blast to jump, but she was the most dishonest jumper I’ve ever ridden. Because she’s so quick and squirrely, she could bury herself into the base of the jump, and then spin off literally at takeoff. There were multiple occasions that I went over the jump…and she didn’t. Some of it I now know was likely due to saddle fit, and too narrow of a saddle that pinched her shoulders. 

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Her most iconic gymkhana pose. She was an absolute blast to run through games. I really took my time with her, trotting and slow loping the patterns for a couple of years for her to learn them — skill before speed. So by the time I introduced the speed element, she had the precision down, and was an expert at flying around the last pole or barrel and absolutely launching. I’m holding on because otherwise, I very likely would have gone off the back of the saddle.

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She’s really loud. For a small pony, she has an incredible set of lungs, and an eardrum-piercing shriek that she makes full use of, especially in a public environment. Everyone knows when she shows up somewhere.

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She doesn’t find my shenanigans very funny. For years, I’ve tormented her as my personal “My Little Pony” with things like festive hats and costume classes, and her predictable reaction almost every time is, “idiot human.”

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She doesn’t actively like very many horses. She’s very independent out in the herd, and typically hangs out by herself. There are maybe a handful of horses over the years she has truly liked, although she’s a shameless, indiscriminate flirt during certain times of the year. Most of the time she’s either tolerant or indifferent, and then other couple of handfuls of horses she actively dislikes.

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Wiggle lips! She’s super-expressive with her lips, especially when she has itchy spots. Scratch her along her belly-line and it’ll send her into lip-wriggling ecstasy.

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Finishing the Man Against Horse 50 was one of my proudest accomplishments with her. It’s a really tough ride, and she never put a hoof wrong the whole time.

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We went all the way to Oklahoma for the biggest show of our career…and I forgot a class pattern for the first (and only) time, and she dumped me in the warm-up ring.

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My greatest accomplishment in her show career was earning her Supreme Championship. For a POA to get “supreme’d” as it is known, they have to earn a certain number of points in three different divisions: Halter, Non-Timed (performance), and Timed (gymkhana). And a certain percentage of those points had to come from what would be the equivalent of “rated” shows. She came to me with about half of the required Halter points, but she and I got all of the necessary performance class points together.

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Out of everything we’ve done together, endurance riding has been the favorite. She’s the absolutely happiest when she’s going down the trail in the lead, and allowed to comfortably move out. We did a couple of rides by ourselves, but her favorite was with one other horse, preferably behind her. She likes a trail buddy, but she wants to be in the lead.

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On our very last NATRC ride, she was well-behaved enough to earn me a perfect 100 horsemanship score. 

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She’s really well-trained, and incredibly soft in the arena. I can ride her in anything, including bridleless. But out on trail, she thinks snaffles are the best joke ever and gleefully runs through them. Either her s-hackamore, or something with leverage (kimberwick) reminds her she does have brakes installed.

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We didn’t do a ton of endurance rides together — 7 50s, and half a dozen 25s. She was a blast to ride in LDs, and we finished all of them, including a couple of Top Tens. We’re 4/7 on the 50s, but all of our rides together have been memorable. I always worried if 50s were too much for her, but only one pull was for her (a tie-up halfway through). Looking back, I probably didn’t give her enough credit, but I’ve always been overprotective of her, and so afraid of hurting her.

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She’s a desert rat, through and through. Every time we’ve gone up to the mountains, she’s definitely on way higher alert. Stumps and logs are suspicious, and deer and elk are equinivorous.

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As much as I trust her…she can also unnerve me faster than almost any horse out there. To this day, I still don’t enjoy riding her out around the barn neighborhood. She’s still very quick and can be very reactive in that particular setting, and I still have a hard time relaxing and enjoying this kind of riding with her. Give us the actual trails any day.

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She is the best camper. Years of showing gave her experience with standing around and waiting, and standing tied at the trailer. Her worst indiscretion is beating her haybag against the trailer.

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She’s naturally a very alert and attentive horse who notices everything. It was a really big switch going from pretty placid lesson horses to the spicy firecracker that she was — and still is. For years, I assumed that if she “looked” at something, she was going to spook at it, so I tended to be the “death grip, super controlling” rider. She’s a saint for putting up with me. Eventually I learned that just because she looked didn’t mean she was going to spook, so gradually did get more relaxed. Of course, she still had to keep me on my toes — I ate dirt more than once over being too relaxed and complacent, and she would pull a fast spin and teleport maneuver. 

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She’s really smart about drinking when she’s thirsty. Several times at rides, she deliberately stopped and moved off-trail to a hidden water tank — once, quite memorably, in the middle of a canter up a big wash with several other horses.

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She used to be absolutely terrified of cows. Then she learned they run away if you chase them. Cow aversion be gone. Now I have to keep her from trying to chase them down.

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She is sooo picky about her bits, and not shy about telling me her opinion. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 bits that she actually likes. All Myler, of course. Preferably the handmade ones with the sweet-iron mouthpiece. She’s the reason I got into collecting bits.

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Her feet are a constant source of aggravation (and learning experience) for me. They’ve never been great, although they’re now light years better than when I first took her barefoot. But I still have to really stay on top of things, and “self-trimming” is not a concept that exists in Pony World.

 

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She is the most interested, multi-faceted, layered equine I’ve ever been around. She can be a bit mercurial (sometimes sweet and cuddly, sometimes bitchy mare), but she has taught me so much about patience, thinking, listening, partnership, forgiveness, humility, confidence…most of my life lessons have been connected to her. She’s my best friend.

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Happy birthday, Mimi!

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This might be one of my new favorite pictures. I successfully captured the “essence” of Mimi. It’s currently being used as my lock screen background on my phone, so I see this perky face every time I pick up my phone.

I can’t believe my baby pony girl is a quarter of a century old. We have literally grown up together — she was 3, I was 11 — and she still delights me as much now as she did 20 years ago.

I love that she still has all of her pony sass and shenanigans, her opinions, her work ethic, and her heart.

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Playing with some barrels and pattern work.

I’ve been battling some slight lameness with her for the past several months — nothing obvious or particularly major, but subtle and consistent. I chalked it up to her age, and the likelihood of something like arthritis or ringbone. As it turned out, I’d just let her feet get away from me, and she just needed a good toe shortening and correction of some rather overlaid bar. (She’s a good example of where the “benign neglect and self-trimming” approach really doesn’t work. To this day, I still have to stay really aggressive and on top of her feet and trimming.) Once that was addressed, she’s been back to feeling 100%, and the last couple of weekends, I’ve gotten some amazing work from her.

In an effort to keep things interesting, I’ve been dabbling in learning more about Working Equitation after spectating part of a demo at an expo a few weeks ago. It looks intriguing, and it’s something I can see myself pursuing on the side, and as a way to cross-train my endurance ponies. Mimi and I already have all of the training down — much of it is very similar to what we did for years in the show ring, between trail courses, reining, western riding, and gymkhana.

So the past couple of weekends, I’ve been putting together mini-obstacles and giving them a try. Mimi is loving it. It’s something new, and it’s just different enough from what we’ve done in the past that she’s very attentive, and trying very hard to “figure it out.” Also helps that it’s done at a lot more speed than the slow, exacting trail course type of work, so needless to say, she’s totally on board with that.

So all of that to say that she doesn’t feel or act her age, and in her world, 25 is nowhere near full retirement age. So we keep going, as long as she’s willing and happy.

She got birthday presents. 

She also got “cake.” (homemade carrot oatmeal breakfast bars)

Through Their Ears

For curiosity’s sake, I sat down and started tallying up how many horses I’ve ridden. Taking into account everything from test rides of sale horses to endurance competitions, in over 25 years of riding, I’ve ridden 80+ different horses, and just in endurance alone, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to compete on over a dozen different horses.

That’s a lot of different sets of ears through which I’ve viewed the trail, and a lot of “other people’s horses.” And I’ve learned something from all of them.

(And several others that I never got any ear!cam shots.)

 

Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2018

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photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

In a roundabout way, I ended up with a ride entry to Bumble Bee via the Convention raffle (friend won it, but wasn’t going to be able to make it to the ride, so offered it to me), but found myself with none of my prior catch rides available. So I let a couple of friends know I was available and looking for a horse, and left it at that. Worse case scenario, if I couldn’t find a ride, I would be able to transfer my entry to next year, and I would go up and volunteer.

A week and half out from the ride, I got a Facebook message from Troy Eckard, with an offer to ride his second horse, Flash, if I was interested. It was an offer than needed no thought whatsoever, and within seconds, I was on the phone confirming that “yes, please, I would be quite interested.” Flash is experienced, with over 1000 miles and a Tevis completion last summer, and this ride was to serve as another notch in his conditioning belt towards Tevis this summer.

Of course, the weekend before the ride, I started battling a head cold, but spent several days throwing every kind of odd concoction I could find down the hatch, and I think the cold germs finally just gave up in disgust and fled (granted, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and horseradish is a little odd, but I promise, it tasted better than it sounds or smells), because I was feeling completely back to normal by the Thursday of ride week, and woke up Friday morning absolutely ready to rock the ride.

I had also arranged to do a boot fitting for a good friend (the credit/blame goes to her for being the one to introduce my father and I to more “extreme” trail riding, thus setting us off on what would eventually lead to endurance) that morning up in Camp Verde…normally way outside how far I’m willing to travel, but for that long-standing of a friend, and given the fact I would already be more than halfway up there for Bumble Bee, I made an exception. So I spent a couple of hours with her and her four horses, getting everyone sized and fitted and catching up on life before I headed back down to Bumble Bee.

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Bumble Bee and Crown King…two of my favorite destinations for my riding and running activities. I feel like I’ve traveled back this road a number of times now. 8 times, as a matter of fact.

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Driving through the burn area…this spot got hit last summer with the “Maggie” Fire — while not that large at 1400 acres, it burned across a section of the Black Canyon Trail, and came right up to the southern perimeter of Bumble Bee Ranch. They’ve also had no appreciable rain since April of last year, so everything is still really dry and crunchy, with no regrowth over the winter.

Every year, I cuss out the dirt portion of the road to the ranch, and habitually forget that I drive a 4WD truck until about a mile or so in, at which point I remember, “Those 4WD control buttons on your dash are there for a reason.” And then my 4WD gets its annual use.

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The amusement factor of this sign never gets old. Pretty sure there are more cows every year, though.

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Home sweet ridecamp. I’ve made it here five out of the six years the ride has been held, so it’s familiar stomping grounds for me at this point.

I got myself checked in and did some socializing, and once Troy arrived, went over to meet my ride.

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Meet Flash. Say hello, Flash.

Like I mentioned, Flash has some good experience under his girth. He’s also tall (15.2 or 15.3 using my highly scientific “his withers are higher than my eyebrows” method), gorgeous, and has “opinions” about just about everything in life. He is personality+ and I adored him immediately.

We got camp set up, then headed over to vet in the boys (Flash, and Troy’s mount Rymoni).

All day, it had been blowing gale-force winds (pretty sure I heard predicted there would be gusts up to 60mph at times), but we needed to get stirrups on Flash’s saddle adjusted for me, as well as the whole “maybe get to know the horse, at least briefly” aspect…so we saddled up for a quick pre-ride. Right away, we set a good tone with Flash standing politely while I climbed on and we fiddled with the stirrups, then meandered out of camp.

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Saddled up and ready to go. My inner tack ho fashionista approves of the black/silver tack for him. It adds to the “badass warhorse” image.

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Casual stroll through the desert. Wind conditions? NBD. Flapping sheet metal? Generated one little snort and side-eye. Cows? Lemme at ’em.

The wind didn’t faze either of the boys, and we got a good stretch in…mostly walking, tossed in a bit of trotting to stretch them out, and a very brief canter, so I could get a feel for all of Flash’s gaits.

They do the ride dinner Friday evening before briefing — Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a nice spread of spaghetti and meatballs and salad, and the pavilion is a great spot for both dinner and ride briefing.

Ride start for the 50s was 6:00AM (yay, beat the heat!), so the boys got to go for a little leg stretch walk, then got tucked in with light blankets for the night. I gotta admit, even if it gets warm in the day, I kind of prefer the April ride date over the January one…much more pleasant overnight temperatures.

Ride morning, I was up plenty early, my standard two hours before the start to give myself time to ease into the morning — dress, coffee, eat — without rushing around. I already had my hydration pack set with water and food, and extra water bottles ready for the saddle. Tacking up was a quick affair, Flash again stood quietly for me to get on, and we meandered over to the start on a loose rein with a couple minutes to spare.

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Chillin’ at the start. Tammy, Troy, and myself.

I’ve had some interesting ride starts in the past, so I’m never quite sure what to expect…especially since I could feel Flash literally quivering with anticipation. I had internally steeled myself for the inevitable rocket launch when the “Trail’s Open” call was given…and we casually walked out on a loose rein.

Okaaayyyy. With just a bit of encouragement from me, Flash clicked over into his power walk, and the front half of the 11 starters in the 50 made their way calmly through the ranch and out onto the trail where everyone picked up a trot and started cruising down the trail. The main objective in this first section was “keep it to a dull roar” and while Flash was strong and would have liked to go faster, he was certainly obedient enough to my request the tone it down just a bit.

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photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

We had a clever little checkpoint out at Antelope Falls, where the trail for the 50s breaks off from the shared trail and heads further east for several miles before cutting back in and rejoining the shared trail. In the past, riders have been asked to pick up some kind of token, but this year, there was sign with a question on it, and you would be asked for the answer back at camp during the one-hour hold. Nice to not have to worry about losing some kind of token, or jumping off to sign a clipboard.

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Antelope Falls. Normally there’s water there, but everything was so dry this year. Our checkpoint question was on the white sign.

My favorite section of this ride is the Black Canyon Trail — all single-track, fairly smooth, with just a few rocky areas and enough ups and downs to keep it very interesting. It’s a trail that really helps to have an athletic horse…one that had a former life as a dressage horse was a major bonus.

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On the Black Canyon Trail, making our way (eventually) towards camp

I’ve run or ridden this section of the BCT multiple times now, and it never fails to delight me. It’s scenic, it’s interesting, it keeps you and the horse paying attention. To me, that all adds up to what makes a really fun trail.

The trail eventually ends up in a wash that has a tiny little creek running through it — another favorite section of trail. This time, I laugh a lot as Flash was being a bit prissy about the whole “trotting through the water” idea. He thought we should be to the side of it, or jumping over it, and when we’d start trotting through it, I could see him actually wrinkling his nose up a little bit. Again, “opinions.” He also couldn’t possibly drink out of the stream water…but as soon as we hit the water troughs set out in front of the ranch, he tanked up.

The horses (and riders) get a bit of a mind-twist at this point. The trail for the 25s goes right up into the ranch, but the 50s end up heading up the wash for another several miles before looping back down and coming in the same way we went out in the morning. Both boys kept glancing over as we headed up the wash, just looking for a break in the vegetation, or a trail that would offer the first opportunity to cut east and head back. Their wish was eventually granted…several miles later.

The trail coming back into camp is pretty nice, although there are several gates to be opened, but we took it easy, backing off the pace the closer we got, and hopping off and hand-jogging in the last quarter mile before walking the last 100 yards or so. They boys had drank really well not far out from camp, so they weren’t interested in the in-camp water when offered, so we immediately went over to pulse and both were down right away.

They got a little bit of time back at the trailer first to eat, then we took them back over to vet. Passed with flying colors, and then back to the trailer again to chow and snooze. I got my pack ready to go back out on loop 2 — refill water, add more food — then briefly sat down to eat a quick lunch and send a quick text update to friends/family. The hour hold actually zoomed by, and before long, it was time to head back over to the out-timer, with a couple minutes to spare.

The first part of loop two is called the “Miner Bob” loop, apparently named after a miner in the area. It’s got a lot of mining claims, and still some kind of mining activity here and there. It’s a more technical, slow-going loop — part of it is winding through a wash in a canyon (Troy and I were both at Virginia City 100 last year, and did some reminiscing about how at least this section was easier than Bailey Canyon at VC), so there’s some slowing down through rough footing.

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Our daily dose of rock climbing

There were more hills and climbs on this section, too, and Flash is a great climber, so he and I lead through this section multiple times. Leading is definitely his happy place, and his enthusiasm was infectious…several times, as I would duck alongside his neck for an overhanging tree branch, I couldn’t help but just giggle. He’s definitely a horse that makes me laugh.

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Trot anything that’s smooth, walk the rough.

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Last climb out from Miner Bob Loop

Once clear of Miner Bob Loop, it was back onto the Black Canyon Trail, this time heading in the opposite direction from the first loop. But first, a pause down in the creek, for a drink and for Flash to proceed to pose for photographer Sue Kordish.

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The last two especially are my favorites. He is such a ham for the camera, and I could feel him deliberately focusing on Sue, and then doing some kind of little pose or showoff moment.

I finally had to convince the showman to get his butt back on the trail, which he did, and quite cheerfully as soon as he realized we were leading out. I had the best time ever the next 5 miles or so back up the BCT in the lead, and it felt like we danced down that trail. He was soft, responsive, and so incredibly tuned in to whatever I was asking.

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Leading ears on the BCT

I always feel supremely fortunate whenever I experience one of those “horsey zen” moments at a ride, and this was definitely one of them.

Coming off the BCT, we rejoined the same trail from the morning, minus the detour out to Antelope Falls, and eventually connected to the very same in-trail from loop one. We followed the same routine of slowly backing their pace off the closer we got to camp, coming in at an easy jog, and meandering across the finish line, with a round of rock-paper-scissors to determine placing order.

We also found out we were in 2nd and 3rd — which was quite a surprise, as we had been sitting in 4th/5th all day, but somewhere in the last few miles, the two in front of us made a navigation error, and they ended up coming in about 10 minutes behind us.

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Finished! 3rd place, ride time of 6:21.

That also meant getting to show for Best Condition — the first time for me! The vets did a CRI 10 minutes after finishing, and then we took the boys back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat before BC judging an hour after our finish time.

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Doing our trot-out for the CRI
photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Troy’s Rymoni came away with Best Condition, but I was pretty tickled to find out that Flash had the high vet score. Always super gratifying to know that you rode well, finished well, and the horse looked good.

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Out for a walk later that afternoon. Both showered and cleaned up, and still enjoying each other’s company.

Because I don’t particularly like driving down I-17 and back into Phoenix on a weekend evening (hello, crazier-than-normal traffic)…and I don’t spend nearly as much time with my endurance tribe as I would like…I had decided to stay over Saturday night, then head back home Sunday morning. Good call, as it made for a leisurely afternoon, plenty of socializing, and not having to mainline large amount of caffeine to avoid being zombie!driver.

Sunday morning, it was super-cute to see how cheerful Flash looked — I came around the corner of the trailer, and he looked up, ears up and eyes bright, like, “Oh, it’s you! Hi!!” And I didn’t even have food for him. ;) Safe to say I definitely connected very strongly with him. He took really good care of me, made me laugh countless times, and I just felt really strong and confident riding him. It was an eye-opening, inspiring weekend, that’s for sure.

I have no idea what’s next on the books, since the AZ ride season winds down from now until the fall, but as always, just kind of playing everything by ear and taking things as they come…

Spring Fever

Lest anyone think I’ve forgotten about the pony, I can assure you she’s still doing her best to enliven my life and keep things interesting. And promote the idea that it doesn’t matter how old or semi-retired they are, horses never lose their capacity for self-destruction.

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No clue what happened, but I’ve gotten pretty skilled over the years at dealing with this type of wound/injury, and have the well-stocked first aid kit to prove it. Clipped, cleaned, and layer-wrapped in short order, and since she wasn’t lame, we still went on to have a nice ride.

Pretty sure that was payback for being gone the previous two weekends in a row.

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Plus, I had to play with my shiny, Convention-acquired new toys.

Verdict: I thought the Archer Equine saddle pad was going to be huge (“the saddle pad ate my pony”) but it actually fits really well with the Duett. Reserving judgment until I give it several rides and wash it, but for its initial trial run, I liked it.

Myler eggbutt, MB33 mouthpiece, is pony-approved, and she worked really well in it.

And I love the mohair reins. Great feel, and weight-wise, they feel like a perfect balance between flat braid reins and round rope rein. To me, at least, a lot of the flat braid are too insubstantial and light, but round yacht rope is just a little too bulky/thick. Plus the mohair is super-soft and feels really good, even without gloves. I know I’ve had really good luck with my high-quality mohair girths washing up really well and lasting a long time, so I’m assuming the same will hold true for the reins.

Happy Monday, all, and hope the rest of the week treats everyone well!