Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2018

76195737-2018-Bumble-Bee-0061

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.

img_2675.jpg

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.

IMG_2678

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.

img_2680.jpg

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

img_2683.jpg

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.

IMG_2687

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.

IMG_2688

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.

IMG_2690

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.

30725573_10216458430841336_1307113975553038526_n

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.

76195739-2018-Bumble-Bee-0070

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.

IMG_2694

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.

IMG_2701

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.

IMG_2709

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.

IMG_2707

Trot anything that’s smooth, walk the rough.

IMG_2714

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.

76195742-2018-Bumble-Bee-066576195744-2018-Bumble-Bee-066776195746-2018-Bumble-Bee-067176195748-2018-Bumble-Bee-0672

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.

IMG_2720

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.

IMG_2725

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.

76198096-2018-Bumble-Bee-1052

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.

IMG_2730

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.

29365424_10109353186376421_5364375051321737216_n

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.

29342934_10109353186241691_8221552017206673408_n

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!

2018 AERC Convention

So I’m still catching up…March has been a busy month that’s seen me head down to Florida for the FITS ride for work (company rep), back home for a few days, and then off to Reno for the AERC Convention. Coming up, I’m catering one of my mom’s workshop events, and then will be setting up at The Mane Event expo here in Scottsdale at the end of the month. Whew.

In a nutshell, Florida was awesome, and I even got to sneak in a short training ride on some of the most beautiful footing I’ve ever seen.

IMG_2115

Dandy Gold, a super-fun cutie Arab x QH mare. I fell in love with her, the same way I fall in love with all good horses.

AERC Convention

This was my 7th year attending the AERC Convention, and it was the best yet. I had some phenomenal help in running the Renegade Hoof Boots booth (Tim & Lara, who helped me out at Horse Expo last year, and are AZ-based long-time Renegade users/dealers, with Tim also being a trimmer), I got my annual All-You-Can-Eat sushi fix, it was probably the best-attended convention to date since I’ve started attending…and the topper…

I WON THE TEVIS ENTRY IN THE RAFFLE!!!

IMG_2239

I threw the vast majority of my tickets into the National, SW Region, and MT Region buckets — cool stuff in the National bucket (scored a $100 Riding Warehouse gift card out of that, as a matter of fact), and both SW and MT region had ride certificates up for grabs for rides I was likely to attend.

Only a few of my rather substantial number of tickets went into the separate Tevis entry drawing…just for fun. Because what are the odds, right?

IMG_8293

Barbara White (holder of the record number of Tevis buckles) is my new best friend, because out of all those tickets in the bin to the left, she pulled mine out. That’s got to be good luck…
photo by Merri Melde

I still don’t know if my epically stunned face after the announcement was ever captured on camera, but I’m pretty sure that was a good minute+ of “wait, was that my name?” processing going on before I managed to make my feet move from where I had been standing. I also think that’s one of the first times I’ve been stunned into silence…normally I announce my excitement with ear-piercing shrieks. This time, I was reduced to nonsensical babbling.

Four days later, I’m still pinching myself. I actually have the Tevis entry printed out and sitting next to my desk. Not filled out yet, obviously, but I’ve got time, and I’ve already reached out to my endurance network to see if anyone has a spare horse they’d like ridden…I’ve got ideas, and a possibility or two in the pipeline, so it’ll be interesting to see how the next few months shake out. All I know is, this is my 10th year attending Tevis, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate that than to ride it, God willing.

Obviously, winning the entry was the absolute highlight of the weekend, but even without that, it would have been an outstanding weekend. Reno is my favorite place to have the Convention (even if the hotel was more smoke-filled than I’ve ever experienced…even in the “nonsmoking” rooms, the stale smoke smell permeates the entire place), if only for the fact so many of my endurance friends attend. And it seemed like in was really well-attended this year. Definitely more vendors than in the last few years, and while I can’t speak for other vendors, I know we had a steady stream of people at the Renegade booth all weekend.

IMG_0087

Working the booth. Not sure what I was in the middle of doing or saying.
photo by Merri Melde

Tim & Lara were great to work with — they’ve been using the boots for almost as long as I have, and Tim is a trimmer, so is an incredibly knowledgeable resource to have available, as he can directly address trimming questions that people may have, or take a barefoot horse-keeping conversation far deeper and more involved than just “how do I put the boot on?”

I had a new display format for this year — a popup display with velcro-receptive fabric panels that allows me to print out photos/posters, attach velcro to them, and then change them out at will or to match a particular event/discipline. I really like it, and although I had to play some major “photo Tetris” while setting everything set up, the end result looked phenomenal.

I also did my annual “drool over ReactorPanel Saddles” booth visit. I finally got to ride in one down in Florida, and it totally sold me on them. I think I’ve finally narrowed down my favorites to the Tribute Trail with the endurance knee blocks (which, curiously enough, on a sawhorse, I’m like, “meh” about…but on a moving horse, they are phenomenal), or the HTT (flapless Heraldic on Tribute Tree) with the scooped bumps. Methinks I need to buy some raffle tickets for the RP drawing at Tevis this year. Because raffle luck…

Reno is also known as the AYCE (All You Can Eat) sushi capital of the world, so it’s become somewhat of an annual tradition for a group of us to go out one evening. And it’s really fun with a larger group (we had 10 this time), because you end up ordering so many different varieties, and getting to try everything.

IMG_2230

yummmmmm — AYCE sushi at Jazmine

I also had to keep my resident tack ho status firmly in place, and came home with a pair of mohair reins from Wild West Endurance Company (formerly Hooves N Whiskers), and a saddle pad and Myler bit scored from the tack swap. (I also brought stuff to sell at the tack swap and most of it sold, so the karmic sales/purchase ratio remains in balance.)

IMG_2237

Shopping and drooling. The purple/black/natural braid is a sample of the same colors as my reins. I want the black/turquoise combo on a future chestnut, though.

I failed to get any photos of getting dressed up for the Saturday night awards dinner, but I wore a dress, and had sparkly glitter high heels. I can wear more than just riding tights and running clothes.

I’ve learned the hard way not to schedule early morning flights out of Reno, since Saturday inevitably turns into a late night…that always coincides with the changing of the clocks for Daylight Saving Time. That’s one hour of lost sleep I’m never gonna get back.

Anyway…flight out wasn’t until the afternoon, so I could sleep in a bit, grab breakfast, and then wander down to catch the last hour+ of the AERC board of director’s meeting, which was quite interesting. I ran for SW Region director this past election cycle and didn’t make it, which I look at now and realize was a good thing. I would have been eaten alive. You have to have some pretty thick skin to be on the board, and not be afraid of confrontation and conflict. So maybe not now…but maybe in a few years. I like that they open up the meeting to members, so if I attend a few more of those and get a better feel for how the whole thing works, I’ll be in a better spot down the road to run and subsequently hold my own if elected.

Flying home was uneventful, even if Sky Harbor airport was an absolute madhouse zoo coming home. I think my parents will thank me if I can avoid flying home on a Sunday evening again any time in the near future, since that’s two Sundays in a row they faced down hellacious airport traffic for me. ;)

Starting now, my goal is to cram in as much saddle time as I can…I’ll be chasing down catch rides left and right, in addition to seeing what the pony may be feeling up to in-between. I’m also planning to up my fitness/workout regime to more than the 2x/week I do now, so that no matter what horse I end u[ riding, I know that I’ll be ready for it.

Plus, I’ve got new toys to play with…not that I need any excuse for good saddle time.

Love Arizona

While everyone’s all #HappyValentinesDay, I’m over here like #HappyStatehoodDayAZ. Because I’ve got puppy snuggles and pony kisses, and I love my state.

One big photo spam of state love.

I don’t have a favorite part of this state. (Although I’m tired of suburbia. There’s a reason the photos all feature the great outdoors, and not my surrounding sea of tiles roofs.) I love that I can get everything from cactus to pines, sand to snow.

Sure, the desert bakes your brains out in the summer, but last weekend, I was riding in a tank top. And there’s no snow to shovel. There’s also plenty of location options for those who prefer four distinctive seasons. (What’s that?)

I’ve been to or through every corner of the state, and plenty of time in the middle of it. I’ve ridden, hiked, or run on trails all over; boated, floated or waded in lakes and rivers; summit’d peaks and descended into the depths of canyons. Sunrises and sunsets painted from a palette of imagination and sheer beauty. Cactus hugs. Quaking aspens.

We’re the youngest state in the continental US, and 48th out of the 50 states to be granted statehood, received in 1912. We have a population of approximately 7 million, making us the 14th largest state by population. And Phoenix is the most populated state capital. (Oh yay. Said with much sarcasm and an overabundance of congestion overwhelm, since I live in the Phoenix metro area…where 2/3 of the state’s population also lives.)

We’re the 6th largest state by landmass. And only 18% of it is privately held. State Trust holds just under 13%, while the Fed “manages” about 42% and the remaining 27% is tribal. We also have the largest number of national monuments of the states — 18. (This would be why so much of the population is all crammed into the greater Phx area and any amount of acreage for property is precious and at a premium. <long-suffering annoyed sigh and eyeroll>

State stuff
Flower: saguaro cactus blossom
Gemstone: turquoise
Tree: palo verde
Bird: cactus wren
Fossil: petrified wood
Mammal: ringtail

Happy 106th, Arizona!

 

 

 

Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50

75291821-2018-Tonto+Twist-0116

photo by Susan Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Alternate titles:

“Not According to Plan”
“How Not To Start Off Your Ride Season”
“At Least We Did An LD”
“Did We Get the Bad Stuff Out of the Way Early?”

In short: Lameness pull after the first 30-mile loop. <insert lots of sad trombone noises here> Minor, but consistent, on the right front…the same RF the vet was looking at suspiciously on Friday at vet-in.

Lesson #1: Always trot the horse out at home before you load them into the trailer.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude them from bonking themselves in the trailer along the way, or thrashing on the high-tie, or stepping wrong on the pre-ride, or…or…or…

In short, I still have no idea what happened. No heat, swelling, or reactions to anything on his shoulder or leg. Current working theory is maybe some lingering foot soreness from trimming, because he displayed more of a consistent choppiness/short-striding on that leg versus a pronounced head-bob/limp.

Lesson #2: You will second-guess yourself about everything. Welcome to endurance.

Every pull, I armchair quarterback. I look back and go, “What could I have done different? If I had done such-and-such, could I have changed the outcome?” And then there’s the dangerous path of “maybe I should have just played it safe and never tried.” Because that comes with its own set of “What ifs” to the tune of, “What if I had tried and it worked? Now I’ll never know…”

Yes, endurance riding can sometimes be a metaphor for life.

Luck wasn’t on my side this time around, so it didn’t all go as I had hoped…but I know myself well enough to know that if I had elected to not start, I would have spent the whole weekend wondering.

IMG_1488

settled in camp; time for a pre-ride

So, to the actual ride. Originally, the plan was for Barb to ride K-Man and for me to take Junior. Middle of the week, she texts me that plans changed…she and K had an incident while clipping, with the end result being her on the ground and one very bruised and sore body/tailbone. In other words, “50 miles in the saddle wasn’t going to happen.” But I should still take the rig and Junior and go to the ride.

Ooookay, then. Nothing like mixing things up a bit. Fun fact: This would only be the second time going to a ride all by myself, in 12 years of endurance. I guess I’m pretty adaptable, because I like going with a ride buddy, but I was also okay by myself. It was kind of nice/different to be able to operate entirely on my own schedule/timeline and feel that independent.

This ride won the award for “closest and most convenient ride ever” — only half an hour away from my house, and a little over an hour away from Barb’s. Friday morning saw me gathering up all my stuff (including a last-minute “bring all the jackets I can find” round of packing in response to the 60% chance of rain now being forecast for Saturday) and heading up to pick up the horse and the rig. Got everything transferred over to the trailer, loaded up Junior, and we were on our way. I even got to drag the trailer through my hated nemesis of a freeway exit, which features two roundabouts instead of our standard stoplights. So dumb, so confusing, and so not made for large trailers. But we did it, without a single curb check or running anyone else out of their lane. Not bad for only my 6th time hauling a gooseneck.

In camp, I set up next to some friends, got Junior settled in with food and water, got the lay of the land and some socialization in, fitted and adjusted Junior’s boots, then saddled up for a short, “blow out the cobwebs” pre-ride.

IMG_1489

heading out to pre-ride; those are the Superstition Mountains

One of the things I really appreciate about Junior is how solid he is under saddle. Tacking up, he was all kinds of squirrely and fidgety, but as soon as my butt hit the saddle, he was all business, marching through camp and out to the trails. We got a good stretch in, and Junior felt strong and happy to be out. Back to camp, and I checked in, got my vet card (all printable material such as maps had been emailed to riders ahead of time so that we could print out as much or little as we needed/wanted, and management had extras on-site if needed, but it was really nice to have that material before the ride), then fetched Junior for vetting in.

He felt so good when we were pre-riding, so needless to say I was completely thrown for a loop when the vet said, “trot him again, I think there’s something on the right front.”

Uggghhhh. In my experience, being asked to trot out again has rarely ended well.

After going again, the vet said there was something really subtle there…subtle enough that if it was during at at the finish of the ride, she certainly wouldn’t pull me…but something to be aware of at the start of the ride, and she wouldn’t prevent me from starting.

Back at the trailer, I immediately called Barb and detailed out what was going on. After chatting for a bit, she ultimately told me to go ahead and start, and if he was off along the way, pull him. He was completely nonreactive to any poking or prodding of his leg and shoulder, and his movement (slightly “short” on that side), coupled with Barb’s comment he had seemed slightly sore a couple days after trimming when she had taken him out the weekend before, had me contemplating if maybe he had some bruising or soreness.

To that end, I promptly starting digging through my supplies for anything I could use to make some pads for his boots. After some digging, I ended up jerrying rigging something together out of spare heel captivator liners, duct tape, and double-sided carpet tape. Not pretty, but certainly innovative…

By the time I got that project all wrapped up, it was time for the potluck dinner and ride meeting. And boy do people know how to potluck. There was a huge spread of food set out, with all manner of main dishes and sides (and desserts). No problem with going hungry here…or worries about dropping below your weight division.

IMG_1496

if you find a buddy to share the chocolate-chip cheesecake with, it doesn’t count

The ride meeting went over the usual — trail markings, water stops, check points, loops (there were 3 — 30/14/6 miles, with a 1-hour hold between loops 1 and 2, and a gate-n-go check between 2 and 3) — although this ride would feature something new: the option to use the “Ride With GPS” app, a turn-by-turn audio track of the trail. The trail was fully marked with traditional ribbons, but we were going to be using some highly-populated, very popular shared trails (other horsepeople, hikers, bikes, ATVs, jeeps, campers), and there was some concerns about removal of trail markers, or the potential for sabotage. Having the app on our phone would give it turn-by-turn directions along the way and act as a back-up in case of questions.

The subject is really deserving of its own post, but the CliffNotes version is that I overall liked the idea. A few times, I got a bit tired of listening to my phone yapping at me so frequently — the directions were very detailed — but I’m also coming from the perspective of knowing and being very familiar with probably a good 85-90% of the trails that were being used and I tend to have a good sense of direction. But what was nice was hearing the voice telling me to do something, see a ribbon, and keep going, versus the worry of “I haven’t seen a ribbon for a while…am I still on the right trail?”

Post-briefing, I took Junior out for one last stroll around camp (the Tour de Water Troughs), tucked him in with a fresh bag of hay, and retreated to the trailer to tuck myself in. With a 7am ride start, I didn’t have to be up ridiculously early — 5am left me plenty of time to dress, walk and feed Junior, feed myself, and get tacked up. I put his newly-padded boots on, and trotted him out in-hand…and he looked good. I had told myself that if he was still off, even after the pads, I wouldn’t start. But he looked good, and when I hopped aboard and walked and trotted him around, he felt good. So off to check-in at the start we went.

Junior is also a really good boy at the start. Will walk out on a loose rein, no matter how many horses around him. But when you trot, you had better be ready, because it will not be a quiet little 5mph dib-dib jog. Nope, the turbo will kick on, and he’ll be ready to roll. He’s one of those horses whose natural, comfortable speed is a little bit on the faster end of the scale, and it’s taken me some time to get used to that and re-calibrate my own internal speedometer, which is used to a much slower default setting. But the more I’ve gotten used to it, the more fun I’m having, and the more comfortable overall I’m becoming in the saddle “at speed” so to speak.

We had a controlled start out out base camp, and through several hundred yards of single-track trail that opened up into a wider, double-track road, at which point we were turned loose. Junior had gotten a nice walking warm-up in, so as soon as we hit the road, I let him trot out, and we actually had our own little space bubble in fairly short order. The first several miles went by really fast — mostly good footing and fairly flat as we made our way up to the Goldfield Mountains and the pass that would take us through the mountains out spit us out on the north side of them.

75291824-2018-Tonto+Twist-0118

photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Photographers Sue and John Kordish were waiting for us part of the way up a steep slickrock climb, and, as always, got some amazing ride photos. I love tackling technical trail on a solid, athletic, trail-savvy horse, and Junior scampered up the rock like no big deal.

75291826-2018-Tonto+Twist-0119

photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Once at the top of the climb, we started hitting the more technical, rocky, slower-going sections of the trail. But we were also on the top of a ridgeline overlooking the most amazing spread of desert and mountain ranges.

IMG_1502

who cares about going slower with that kind of view?!

IMG_1499

there’s all kinds of legends and lore of gold in the Superstition Mountains (look up the Lost Dutchman mine if you’re curious), but I got a different kind of gold this morning

The predicted clouds and cold front also started rolling in more enthusiastically by this time, and what had started out as breezy, with a few wisps of clouds, was rapidly turning into full cloud cover with a cold wind.

IMG_1504

got rocks? I think I found where I need to go when I want to practice for Virginia City

Fortunately Junior was pretty agreeable about pacing, and had enough experience and trail sense to slow down on his own in the worst of it, and was willing to listen to my suggestions of “no, we are going to walk this section” when requested.

IMG_1508

there’s some sort of cave tucked in that rock formation behind the saguaro

The trail wound us through a wash, and eventually spit us out onto a forest service road. We’d been warned about it — rocky, hard-packed, would probably make people grumble…but also the only way for the trails to be connected and for the ride to happen. It wasn’t dissimilar to the road on the 50 at Man Against Horse, so I just employed the same strategy — trot when you can, walk everything else. We had our own space bubble by that point, and Junior just motored along, steadily eating up the miles as we made our way through the mountain pass and down to Bulldog Canyon.

Bulldog Canyon is about 4 miles of mostly sand wash…take it far enough, and you run into the Salt River, but today, we were heading uphill in the opposite direction. We had caught up to a few people at this point, and four of us took advantage of being off the slow-going road and moved up into a trot and canter through the wash. The company was nice at this point, because there were campers set up out there, so you’d come around a blind turn and there would be a huge campsite set-up off to the side, and more than one horse was somewhat startled by the slightly unusual sight.

IMG_1514

along the road; once we were clear of it, I didn’t end up taking any more pics due to the “moving out and making time” factor

Just a short way up the wash, we had our first water stop and checkpoint, 12 miles in. They also had hay and carrots, so we stayed there for several minutes. Junior drank a little bit, peed, ate several carrots, and chowed down on some hay. There wasn’t much to eat along the trail, so having hay at most of the stops was very welcome, and well worth the extra few minutes of stopping.

The next stop was 4 miles away, at the main trailhead/entrance area to Bulldog Canyon. It’s gorgeous footing, and the wash isn’t too deep, so we had fun boogieing through this section. We were also on my familiar turf now — I’ve ridden Bulldog multiple times, so know what to expect and where we were going. We had a bit of trail traffic through here — it’s a popular off-roading destination for ATVs and jeeps — but everyone was courteous and polite about passing/yielding the trail.

Into the water stop at 16 miles, Junior drank really well, and settled in with a nice flake of alfalfa. They also had volunteers there handing out Platinum flax snack bars for the horses (Junior approved) and trail mix and fruit to the riders. I got a water bottle re-filled, and downed a packet of trail mix while Junior ate. Another 5 minutes there, but Junior ate the whole time, and then when he was ready, he moved himself away from the hay and back towards the trail. Okay, then…on we go. We had our own space bubble back at this point, and picked up the trail that would take us into Usery Mountain Park.

Ah, some of my home trails. I’ve been riding, running, and hiking these trails for probably close to 20 years now, and I love them. Lots of single-track that twists and turns, climbs and drops…mostly good footing, and definitely a trail to enjoy if you have an athletic, agile horse. Lots of trail traffic here — Usery is a major county regional park, so very popular with hikers and bikers, especially on the weekends. I passed numerous hikers in this section, and everyone was really polite and curious.

Management had done a ton of advertising about the ride ahead of time, and there were signs posted at all of the trailhead access points, informing trail users of an event going on that day. That said, we were still on shared trails — and while horses always have the right of way, I try to be cognizant of not abusing that right. Yes, we were in a competition setting…but that doesn’t mean “run over everything in your way.” Part of being out on these trails and using them is to be ambassadors for the sport. Stopping and walking by hikers, exchanging greetings, or even pausing to give a brief explanation of what you’re doing, all go a long way towards building and keeping good trail relationships. They also tend to get a kick out of seeing Junior’s Renegades — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Hey, those look like Crocs for horses!” or “That horse has hiking boots on!” over the years when using Renegades. Again — it becomes something they can relate to (special gear that has a purpose, just like their own hiking boots) and fosters that sense of trail community.

Okay, PSA over…I just feel like because I’m on shared-use trails so much, I spend a lot of time on trail practicing said etiquette, building community relations, and educating people about trail sharing, so it’s something that’s a pretty big part of my riding (and running) life.

Mile 20, at one of the Usery trailheads, we had another water stop and checkpoint. Junior had done so well in the eating department at the last one that we just stayed here for a couple minutes, long enough to get a drink and to wait for a very large group of hikers to come in off the trail. Back on the trail, this was one of the super-flat, easy sections that eventually ended up at the “Channel” trail — a completely flat, perfect footing trail at the base of a flood control levee. It’s one of the most fun trails for a straightaway canter…and Junior thought so, too.

26bda-028

from a training ride with Mimi, the “Channel” trail…for years, I have longed to canter this trail in a ride setting…got my wish

It was one of those “superbly in sync with the horse” moments…he was locked on to the trail and focused on nothing but moving ahead, I was balanced and super-secure, and we flew down that stretch. So much fun, and I’m pretty sure I was giggling with glee when we finally pulled up and got back on more single-track trail.

And right about this time, the predicted rain caught us. It started as just noticed a spot of water or two on my saddle pommel, and then a couple drops on my arms. So out came the jacket again, and as we made our way closer to camp, the rain started coming down heavier. Apparently getting wet at numerous events in 2017 wasn’t enough…we have to carry the tradition forward into the new year.

Volunteers stationed at all the road crossings made it super safe and easy to get across the roads (3 of them) on the way back to base camp. One last water stop at Prospector Park, just a couple miles from camp. It was raining quite steadily now, and the last couple miles into camp got a bit interesting. Junior threw a mutiny, basically…sulked his way out of the water stop because there was only water there, and no hay, and he decided at that moment he was starving as he tried to grab bites of nasty dry desert vegetation on our way out. He also isn’t a fan of the rain or the cold. I had a rump rug on him, but he still wasn’t amused, and I could also feel him hesitating slightly on one side, especially at the trot when I would post on that right diagonal. Crap. Combination of all those factors = equine mutiny.

I was pretty sure I knew what would happen when we got back to camp, but also had decided that if the vets didn’t pull us, I would…even if the last 20 miles were much easier, and way kinder footing, I’ve ridden Junior enough to know he is not a “pedal” horse…the fact I was having to pedal him, even that close to camp, meant he was telling me in the only way he knew how that he was done for the day.

We pulsed down as soon as we got in to the check, and he was already down to 56, and the vet said he looked phenomenal — all As on metabolics, fantastic gut sounds (those minutes at the stops to let him eat paid off)…but when we trotted out, agreed that there was something on that right front, and it was a more apparent than at vet-in. Given what she saw, and my own feeling, and the fact that, as much as a pull sucks, I would rather be safe than sorry, especially with someone else’s horse, we reached a mutual “He’s pulled” decision. I think the vet was almost as sad as I was, because she commented multiple times on how good he looked otherwise, and his metabolics were amazing.

Meanwhile, it was still raining, so back at the trailer, I did a quick yank of all of Junior’s tack and bundled him up in a couple layers of fleeces and blankets and installed a mash and more hay in front of him while I scuttled around cleaning everything up. Somewhere along the way, the trailer batteries had stopped holding a charge…so if the sun was out, the solar panels provided enough juice to run everything…but since it was raining and completely cloud-covered, the batteries were completely tapped out. Which meant nothing worked (and the carbon monoxide detector was chirping like crazy with its low-power warning)…no water pump, no water heater, no shower…how quickly I’ve gotten spoiled. :)

thumbnail_53817062563__94AF0F3A-B371-4FBC-9A73-AA68F0B214E4

ghetto-blanketing…no neck cover? just add a second blanket and strap it around the neck

Couple all of that with the fact it was still raining, and Junior was standing outside and pouting and shivering, I looked at the clock and figured I had enough time to pack everything up, drive Junior and the rig back to Barb’s, and then drive back to the ride for the rest of the afternoon and for dinner. So that’s what I did. Junior got some more recovery time while I worked on getting everything packed up and wrapped up (why does it take so much longer in the rain to pack everything up?), then I loaded him up and we headed back.

IMG_1519

back home…sun was shining, he was feeling fine enough to chase K-Man around, and he got mash leftovers

Once home, he was feeling good enough to chase K-Man around the pasture and away from the mash leftovers. I got everything unpacked and spread out to dry in the now-shining sun, and all my stuff thrown into my truck, then headed back down to the ride to hang out for the rest of the afternoon. It was so worth coming back for the dinner (homemade Indian fry bread tacos), and it was wonderful to see such a large turnaround stick around for the dinner and awards.

Of course I’m disappointed in the pull (sucks when it’s your own horse, doubly sucks when it’s someone else’s), but I couldn’t be happier with the ride itself. Management was absolutely top-notch, and you would have never known it was a first-time ride. Normally they come with some growing pains and things to be ironed out for subsequent years, but I honestly can’t think of anything I would have changed on this ride. Well, except for maybe the getting rained on part. I loved having a ride so close by, on trails I know so well. This felt like a classic endurance ride — challenging in some areas, and super fun in others. Really hoping it sticks around and becomes part of the regular AZ ride circuit.