First of Spring ride story

Mid-afternoon dental appoinments really cut into the schedule and working with the horses time. Had enough time today to dash in, dab more goop on Beamer’s dings, check to see that none of the horses got too enthusiastic with each other, then zip home, shower, change, and go see my novacaine-happy dentist. But I thought I would post my very long ride story from the First of Spring NATRC ride, April 14th.

First of Spring NATRC
April 2007
Warner Springs, CA

First things first: this is pretty long and wordy…I think I recounted almost every step of the ride! And I edited this from the original version!

First of Spring is always an interesting ride…for the majority of Region 2, it’s their first ride of the year. Many people chose to make this their first ride for various reasons: it’s fairly centrally located, it’s overall what I consider an easy ride, with smooth trail and essentially no hills. Historically though, FoS tends to be “one of those rides”, the kind where Murphy’s Law sets up permanent residence, and if it can go wrong, at least one person in camp will probably have it go wrong somewhere along the way.

This year was no exception. A record number of riders got dumped (my father included…more on that later), riders had major issues with crossing the multitudes of horse gates on the trail, people were way behind on their timing, and we were inundated with masses of bovines along the trail!

I think I set a new record in having stuff ready…the truck and trailer were both packed by 11:30 Thursday morning! With every ride, I just leave more and more stuff in the trailer, so I have to pack less each time. :) The ponies got their baths Thursday afternoon…it stayed nice and warm for Beamer’s bath, fortunately, but the wind picked up and some clouds started coming in about halfway through Mimi’s bath, necessitating a “shiver reaction” from the drama queen…culminated by some truly impressive slides, bucks and spins on the lunge line as I was trying to slow lunge her to dry her out. The neighbors had a new dump truck parked next to the round pen that was going to eat her…

And you thought bathtubs were just were for people… I prove that it’s just as useful for tack cleaning! :)

Friday morning rolled around way too fast, despite getting to bed at 8:30. 2:30 in the morning is an inhumane time to be up. Packed the coolers, loaded them into the truck, then it was grab a piece of toast (and coffee!) and head down to the barn to pick up the ponies.

First stop was Gila Bend, a little less than 2 hours away. Breakfast at McDonald’s, and who should come rolling up but Patrick Cook, our farrier, who was also going to the ride. We just thought he was going to be leaving about 5 hours before us…turns out it was raining in the middle of the night, so he went back to bed. Dad turned the keys over to me at this point, and I got to experience driving our new truck (Chevy Silverado ¾ ton Duramax) on it’s first long-distance hauling trip! I’m still getting used to the ease of driving a diesel, and it just skimmed up the hills like it was on the ground. Going 70 mph on some of the hills between Gila Bend and Yuma at 2000 rpms…nice!

Pulled into El Centro (note: need to find a better gas station, or better yet, just stop in Yuma) around 10:30, stopped for gas and to give the horses some water and sloppy beet pulp. Ate a couple large handfuls of B.P. each, but didn’t drink much. Ate a carrot and apple each.

Gave the keys back to Dad at this point, because partway to the ride, there are a lot of hills coming out of Ocotillo Wells, something I’m not experienced with. It’s a narrow, 2 lane highway through twisty, curvy mountain roads, with oncoming traffic (often RVs) whipping around blind corners. I tried to nap, but the area around Anza Borrego is so pretty, in the dry, arid desert way. :)

Got into ridecamp about 12:45, 8 hours after we left home. Despite what MapQuest says, it is not 6 hours and 15 minutes away…especially in a 30+ mph headwind! Found our favorite parking spot was still open – close to check in, briefing, and porta-potties.

Now the fun begins, as we had Easyboots to glue on still. It’s been somewhat of a nightmare trying to get this boot thing to work. Last year, I lost 3 boots at this ride, 2 of them permanently – one over a cliff, and one into a stream at the bottom of a steep bank. There’s $80 gone…

At Wickenburg last month, 3 of my 4 boots came off the second day. We eventually came to the conclusion that I hadn’t been using enough foam, and I wasn’t mixing it enough and let it set up enough before cramming their feet in the boots. Well, they worked this time…larger stir cups and more foam are the keys to successful Easybooting. It didn’t even take me that long to pull them off.

Check-in was a non-event, which was a relief. Our judges, Dale Lake and Leroy Burnham, DVM, are a great team with a fine sense of humor and a lot of experience. Dale sat on the Tevis board and was ride director for 3 years. Mimi put in a really good performance during check-in…stood stock still for the vet’s examination, then trotted out beautifully.

Now, Mimi being her Mimi-ish self somehow managed to bang her head (again!) on something in her stall, so she had a fresh, 2 inch long gash right across her forehead, right where the browband lays. It’s always something…wrapped her browband in moleskin where it might rub across the cut, and never had any problems with it the whole ride. Figures this would be the one time I don’t bring the back-up bridle that doesn’t have the browband. :)

Briefing was relatively, well, brief. Finished in about an hour…I’ve done this ride for 5 years now, 4 of those years on this same trail. The only thing that changes from year to year is the timing.

Took the horses out for a walk around ridecamp, let them drink out of the “different” troughs (since those are so much better than their buckets :)), then it was back to the trailer for their evening supplements and sloppy beet pulp slurry mixes.

It was sort of a restless night for me…got a good, solid 4 hours of sleep before I was woken up by trotting hoofbeats. Someone’s horse got loose…again. This happens at every ride…ironically enough, I find out the next morning it was Beamer that got loose! Whoops…I actually got out of bed and checked on them, too…Mimi was still attached to her hi-tie, peered around the side of the trailer and saw Beamer’s butt…little did I know, he wasn’t attached to the trailer at that point! A nice lady, Tamara, that was camping next to us caught him and returned him…apparently the snap on his leadrope had come undone. Something else to now check at every ride…urk.

4:15 rolled around way to early…and it was COLD! My little thermometer in the dressing room registered 24*. I have double sleeping bags, which is nice…until you have to get out of them. Note to self: buy a little portable heater! I’m also trying to figure out how to insulate the dressing room myself…Home Depot, here I come!

Go to make breakfast only to find out we were out of propane! :( Fortunately, Patrick was nice enough to let us use his stove in his LQ trailer (I want one of those…) so I could boil water for coffee and oatmeal.

Had to try and thaw out my Skito pad before I could tack up, so I stuck in on Mimi’s back and pulled her blanket back over it. Works pretty well, and it thawed out in about 10 minutes, during which time I was messing with attaching extra packs to my saddle. Got her tacked up fast…she’s so good for that – thanks to all the years of showing and tack changes.

Headed out on the trail at 7:30, the first CP riders out of camp. Mimi is so much calmer at ride starts with Beamer compared to with Kelly! We actually walked out of camp, across Hwy 79, and onto the California Riding and Hiking Trail. Did a very slow trot down to the wash that runs under Hwy 79, then walked up the wash and under the bridge, where we were observed by a couple judges right off! Mimi yanked her head as we stepped down the bank, and was able to get some extra rein, which I lost a point on. :( Bad pony. She did that last year, too.

Need to get grippier reins, methinks. Maybe beta biothane. I like the round nylon reins, because they double as a good lead rope for when I hop off and lead, but maybe for NATRC competition, when I don’t need to lead, I need something I can get a better grip on. We’re usually moving fast enough in endurance that she doesn’t feel the need to yank the reins. :)

Got through the bridge and into the campground, where Beamer tried Round One of the buck-fest. Didn’t really work, as he learned that he doesn’t get to go faster when he bucks. Picked up the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at this point. Crossed the first horse gate – I was able to stay on Mimi and open it, hold it open, and close it again from her back. Good pony. Making up for the rein grab.

After that, it was about a mile of rolling plains to the next Hwy 79 crossing, and our first checkpoint. We were running about 7 minutes ahead of mid-time at this point, right about where we like to be. By running about 10 minutes ahead of time, we give ourselves a comfortable buffer to deal with things like tack adjustments and unscheduled dismounts, both which occurred on this ride.

Crossed the highway and headed off under the trees, the single track trail winding its way along a stream, and under a canopy of oak trees. Beamer decided that he was going to embrace the Young, Bad Horse aspect of his personality. His first offense was bouncing into a springy trot as Dad was passing under a very low tree branch…thank goodness for helmets, as that was one pointy oak branch! I should know, as I made contact with it on the way back…

The name-calling he got obviously didn’t sink in, because about 2 minutes later, he starts bucking when he wants to catch up to the horse that was in front of us. Dad disengaged him – or tried to. Beamer got very resistant, and decided he didn’t want to give, so he stiffened his neck and locked his jaw, wiggling his hind end all over the narrow trail. Well, at some point, he forgot how many feet he has, and got the back ones slightly tangled…

Tangled back feet hitting dead logs on the side of the trail usually don’t mix, and this case was no exception…Beamer went down, Dad flew off and landed about 10’ away in a think, cushy pile of leaves. Beamer flipped over into a pile of dead sticks and logs, scrambled around a bit, managed to extract himself, shook himself off, and went merrily trotting down the trail after the Fox Trotter in front of us!

The gal in front of us caught him about the same time we caught up to him, Dad readjusted his saddle, which had slid halfway down his side (thank goodness for cruppers and breastcollars!), and hopped back on. After this, Beamer was perfectly behaved. Neither of them were hurt, although Beamer had some scrapes on him.

This ride takes place on the beautiful Warner Springs Ranch, which the PCT winds its way through. Normally we see a couple cows throughout the ride, usually at a distance away. This year, we were up close and personal. We ran into a herd of Holsteins in the middle of the open plains, a few of them less than 2 feet off the trail. Beamer isn’t crazy about cows, so Mimi got to demonstrate her skills as a cow pony! We’d walk up to one, she’d lower her head, pin her ears, and glare at that cow! This typically resulted in the cow wilting in fear, and moving away.

Started down one of the few climbs on this ride…down a series of switchbacks to the stream below. I call this area from the stream to lunch my “Tevis training trail” – this first part is pretty narrow single-track that switches back and forth down to the stream below.

About part of the way down the switchbacks, we hear a crashing sound. There’s another herd of cows down below us, and about half a dozen of them are running down from upstream, crashing through the brush and hopping around. Horses just froze, eyes really big. We managed to get down the trail, one step at a time (and really tight reins!), until we cleared the trail and made it down to the stream, where there were still a few stragglers hanging around. Mimi stared down the one cow that was still drinking, got a drink herself (good girl!), then crossed the stream.

There were still about half a dozen cows on the other side of the stream, walking down our trail! I didn’t know the PCT stood for the Pacific Cow Trail! Mimi actually moved them down the trail for 100 yards or so, but then they got tired of that and jumped down the bank, across the stream, and down the other side of the stream. That cleared us of the cows for the rest of the ride, until we came back to the stream after lunch…

About a mile after the stream, we climbed the one hill in the ride…more “Tevis” trail…narrow, wind-y single track that slowly makes its way up the hill, plateaus for a while, then gradually descends again. It’s really fun, and I actually trotted on quite a bit of it. There’s quite a few sharp, blind turns, and dropoffs on the trail…not sheer drops, but V-slants, enough height to make it interesting! I don’t really like trails with dropoffs that much if I’m just walking along, which gives me way too much time to look at how far I’m going to fall if Mimi slips. So I prefer to actually trot narrow trails. The horses pay more attention, too.

Came into the P&R – Mimi was at the acceptable “go” rate coming in – 16 in 15 sec. (64). The ponies had great P&Rs. Mimi came in at 10/3 after the 10 minute wait, and Beamer was 9/5 (I think). We had a judged mount, which I aced, one of my few I’ve managed (I love my new saddle!), then it was across Hwy 79 again to Barrel Springs, our lunch stop. Bob and Margie Insko had their motorhome there, ready to serve lunch!

Bob had chili for us, as well as Margie’s homemade cornbread muffins, fresh green grapes (my favorites!), and a chocolate chip cookie. Ate rather quickly – I was hungry! I like to be waiting at the out timer 5 minutes before my out time, only because I’ve lost track of time before, and ended up going out almost 10 minutes late. :(

Adjusted my pad again – this was only the second time I used this pad with this saddle, and apparently Skito means it when they say don’t use the Cordura topped pad on slicker bottomed saddles. The pad migrated about 4 times throughout the ride…so we’ll be ordering a grippier, DryBack pad from Skito. Had to adjust my right stirrup to a hole shorter than my left…I think I must be out chiropractically, probably in my right hip. Dad noticed I was leaning to the right a lot. Shortening my stirrup helped, but I don’t want to do that because it means I’m riding off balance.

We headed out after lunch, back across Hwy 79, and back the same way we had come out. This was Mimi’s first time leading out and being the first horse along the trail, so she was actually a little spookier than I’m used to. Got to test the security of my new saddle on several occasions, and I’m happy to report it is very secure, especially for an English saddle! It’s a Duett (http://www.duettsaddles.com/), specifically designed for wide, flat-backed horses. I got the Companion Trail model, which has a lot of D rings, a padded seat, and longer and wider panels.

After we got back to the stream, more cows were waiting for us. About a dozen this time, below the trail, on the trail, and on the bank above the trail. The horses were concerned about that, so we stopped and waited for them to move off, crashing through the stream and up the other side. They did, except for one stubborn cow on the hillside, and I just knew if I went past her, she’d choose that moment to run behind Mimi, which would be a very bad situation. So Mimi and I scrambled up the bank, moved the cow down onto the trail, then down into the steam. Got to the stream crossing, the horses drank again, and we went back up the same switchbacks we had come down that morning.

Going through the shady oaks next to the stream was fun…we were first through the area, and we were scaring quite a few critters out of the dry, dead underbrush…squirrels make a lot of noise when they scramble through dead leaves and twigs! So Mimi was doing a lot of little spooks, most of which were kind of fun, as long as we weren’t too close to the edge of the trail. I wasn’t keen about the idea of landing in the stream.

Got into the 2nd P&R, was 8/3 after the 10 minute wait. Beamer was 12/5, but part of that was probably due in part to the P&R was right next to Hwy 79, and Beamer hasn’t been exposed to that much traffic yet. And we did a lot more trotting than what he’s used to. The P&R was actually at the 2 mile point, which meant forward motion from this point on. Made it into camp within our 15 minute on each side window around our midtime.

We cleaned the horses up – the day ended up being very pleasant, and the horses were barely sweaty, so they cleaned up very easy. We were waiting in line, being the first 2 back in camp, by the time Dale and Leroy made it back. Mimi checked out beautifully, for the most part. Her trot-out was gorgeous – one of the best she’s ever done! She actually checked out with a higher score on her trot-out than she checked in with.

One thing I was very happy with was that her back checked out perfectly! I think the new saddle is working…and that’s with the saddle pad going all wonky half the ride!

Poulticed and wrapped Mimi’s legs and pried off the Easyboots after we checked out…it only took me about half an hour to get all of them off, and that’s with taking breaks in between to let them soak in water. I’m pleased to say that I’ve pretty much figured out the trick to getting them to stay on…I wasn’t mixing the foam enough or letting it set up long enough before sticking the boot on the hoof, and I was using too little foam. Probably used too much foam this time, but it beat losing any boots! We’ll keep tweaking it, but for now, my faith has been restored in Easyfoam.

Dinner was served about half an hour before the schedule said, but I was okay with that, even if I didn’t have a chance to change. First time that’s happened, still being in my riding clothes for dinner and awards. My half chaps kept my legs warm when it started getting chilly, though.

Dinner was grilled tri-tip and salad…yum! Had a great dinner in our little “Arizona circle”. Beni DeMattei, Debbie Zinkl, Rochelle Gribler, Ellen Stewart and myself all set up our chairs in a circle and gabbed about the ride. I lost my father somewhere at this point…I believe he, Patrick and Jim Monroe were spending some time chatting. It’s been a year since we’d seen Jim, so there was some catching up to do. Apparently Jim has a new horse, so we’re looking forward to seeing him back in action at the next rides!

Awards got started after we had a chance to eat and gab. Neither Dad or I placed, but CP was a very tough class at this ride – 16 entries, and the scores were very high, separated only by +’s and -’s. Got to crash into bed about 10:30 after taking the horses for a walk and refilling their hay bags for the night. Got woken up at about 3:30, this time by raindrops! It wouldn’t be a First of Spring without getting rained on at some point! Heard the horses shuffling around unhappily, but that’s what waterproof Goretex blankets are for, and I wasn’t going out there to comfort them.

Woke up about 6:00, the rain had stopped, although there were still a lot of clouds hanging around. Started packing up, and about half an hour before we were ready to leave, it started sprinkling again. Had a moment of panic when I couldn’t find my keys, but didn’t really have time to look for them. Dad found them back home when he was cleaning out the trailer…they fell into one of my storage crates. Must have fallen out of my pocket while I was packing.

The rain stopped when we pulled out of camp, which was nice. Hwy 79 and S2 are not fun to drive in the rain. Stopped briefly in El Centro to water the horses and for a bathroom break. The next stop was Yuma, where we stopped at the state line to present paperwork (the guy at the counter didn’t even know where to stamp our health certificates!) and get gas. Note: Love’s stations are good places to stop! Their pumps are really fast, and their stores and bathrooms are usually really clean. I got Subway for us for lunch on the go, and Dad handed the keys over to me at this point.

It was still really windy, but it was a straight tail wind, so driving it wasn’t a problem. Got my first experience trailering down a hill with Maxie (the truck) and the Allison transmission. That is one smart, sweet transmission! I drove the same hill last year with the Suburban, and I was riding the brake the whole way down.

Made it back to the barn in a little over 7 hours. Turned the ponies out, and they both took off, Mimi at her fast “pony-trot”, Beamer cantering along behind her. They both looked really good.

Overall, I’m very pleased with how this ride went. Mimi was the best behaved she’s ever been at this particular ride. The new saddle appears to be working, especially once I switch out the stirrup leathers for myself. I was getting some pressure bruising on my thighs from the stirrup buckles, so I may try some Wintec Webbers, which aren’t as bulky. The Easyboot experiment went smoother this time, and I loved using the new UpBuckles!

Now it’s time to send in our entries for the Region 2 Benefit ride at Descanso, CA, over Memorial Day weekend.

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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