Land of the Sun ride story

The aches are barely starting and I’m already sitting down to write the latest ride story, which just goes to show how good the ride is…the worse the ride, the longer the story takes to get written, if it even does at all. And I’ve found that in my excitement over the ride, I ended up being rather verbose…so this story kind of goes on forever. All the excitement over a first 50, you know. It’s probably going to be a play-by-play of almost every mile of the trail, so will probably be a little bit boring in parts.

As a bit of a preface/introduction, I’ve been working on getting to a 50 mile endurance ride on a regular basis for the last year…my first 50 was supposed to be Land of the Sun 2007…the night before the ride, one of Mimi’s pasture-mates bit her in the middle of the back, right where the saddle sits. The entire year went that way…
an entire comedy of errors that culminated in me managing to get to 3 NATRC rides
and one LD ride. Not exactly what I would call a stellar year.

The 2008 ride season kicked off with an dubious start…Dad and I were supposed to go down to Sonoita to do 2 days of the LD at the Las Cienegas Pioneer. Well, Thursday (pony bathing day) rolls around…and with it comes clouds, wind, rain, and some kind of flu bug. So we bailed. Tough endurance riders, us.

Fast forward to the end of January…by this time, it has been since the beginning of October since Mimi has been to a ride, and she is going Stir Crazy. This is the horse that thrives on a competition a month, which is all she’s known since I owned her. When I was showing, we had a show once a month, on average. So she tends to get a little antsy when she doesn’t get to go anywhere for a time. Picking on her “brother” (Dad’s Shagya Arabian gelding, Beamer…absolutely no relation, they aren’t even the same breed…but they look very similar, and they’re pasture-mates, hence the “sibling” designation), throwing her feed tub around, charging the barn aisle for food…*sigh*

The week leading up to the ride was completely and utterly nerve-wracking for me. Fortunately, I had school to distract myself, and passed a couple more of my 60wpm speed tests (I’m in court reporting school right now, for those who didn’t know) because I was so focused. All the time, I was watching the weather reports…and getting more and more depressed and the chance of rain percentages kept creeping up…10%…30%…60%…70%…*gulp* This did not look good. Mimi hates the rain and cold weather, and is prone to cramping up in such conditions. I really didn’t want to brave my first 50 in the rain, but we had worked our tails off all summer long, and I wasn’t going to be put off.

I have the fortune of being horsey neighbors with Jim and Cindy Brown for part of the year…they spend the winters in Arizona, and their property is about a mile away from where we board the ponies, and I’ve been able to train with Cindy for the last two years or so, and we were planning on camping together at the ride. Talking to Cindy mid-week, the consensus was made the it would have to be hailing softballs for any of us to back out of the ride. They’ve been trying to make it to Wickenburg for a good number of years, and this year was finally the year they made it!

Wednesday night, I was dreading checking the weather…the last forecast was 70% chance of rain…in Arizona, that’s as good as saying “you’re going to get flooded out and go swimming down a wash.” Urgh. Surprise, surprise, the chance of rain had dropped back down to 40%…still, an almost certainty, but maybe not quite as much. And then, the nicest surprise when I woke up Thursday morning…the chance of rain had shifted to Sunday, leaving Friday and Saturday with only a 10% chance…in AZ-speak, that means less than zero, it’s just the weather forecaster’s idea of being optimistic.

Thursday afternoon is bath day, and the ponies get their first baths since October. Yeah, I’m a bad mommy, but I hate bathing when it’s cold and the water temperature is only slightly above freezing. The ponies don’t appreciate it too much, either. Fortunately, Thursday was sunny and barely breezy, which made for nice bathing weather. They both got fast baths, then stuffed into fleeces and sheets and installed in front of a pile of Bermuda and a pan of goodies (beet pulp, rice bran, salt, and some Trailer Express to try to encourage drinking that night).

I’ve pretty much got trailer packing down to a science now, and had it all packed Wednesday afternoon, so the only thing left for me to do Friday morning was pack the coolers and remember to stick my pillow in the truck. Ponies got another pan of goodies to munch while we pulled their sheets, groaned at the new manure and pee stains (no more gray horses after this, I swear), and did some last minute “make them look presentable” touchups. They both jumped in the trailer and we were on the road by 8:30. Yeah, Dad and I are both ridiculously early kind of people…he’s both of my parents are crazy morning people, whereas I’m actually not, I prefer to be a creature of the night, but for things like rides, I like to be there early if I can, since I’m pretty much rubbish at just sitting around twiddling my thumbs when I could be there setting up and not feel rushed.

Wickenburg actually isn’t that far away, just northwest of Phoenix, but we’re way southeast, and Friday morning traffic driving into and through Phoenix is not exactly fun. I drove and negotiated to moving road hazards while Dad took care of running the business on the go. It took us about 3 hours to get to the ride, between 2 stops at the drug store and grocery store, and the traffic.

Ridecamp is at the Wickenburg Rodeo Grounds, which is a nice, quite civilized location. Civilized = bathrooms. With flush toilets. Consider me spoiled. *grin* We found a nice spot around by the arena, fairly quiet, although a bit of a ways to the vet check. Easy enough for briefing and rider check-in, since we could cut through the grandstand, but I haven’t taught the ponies how to climb steps yet, so whenever they were in tow, we took the long way around.

We were one of the earlier ones to get there…when we pulled in, we only had one other neighbor, Karl Phaler and his Spotted Saddle Horse, Bubba G. Beamer was quite cheerful about having another horse on his side of the trailer. Mimi, on the other side and on her HiTie, could care less. She just wanted her food.

It didn’t take too long to set up camp…Dad sleeps in the back of the trailer, and I’m up front in the dressing room. I had a spot saved next to our rig for Jim and Cindy, who were leaving late morning. Mimi was thrilled when they showed up – she considers their boys her “harem”, especially Jim’s horse Panama. Panama got the nickname “Pony Motivator” over the weekend after they passed us and Mimi spent the rest of the ride trying to catch him.

Vet-in was completely without issue…pony did her usual “egg-beater” trot-out…I enviously watch all those pretty, floaty-trot Arabs, then go trot out the go-pony, whose legs go twice as fast as everyone around her. The vets get a kick out of watching her. *grin*

We did a short pre-ride just to stretch them out…Beamer was, as fairly typical, higher than a kite, but very controllable, especially when we were clinging to the side of a narrow single-track and a dog popped up on the other side of the hill. Beamer went to spin, saw the drop-off, and decided that wasn’t a healthy move to make. *Good* trail horse. He’s learning. Mimi just rooted her hooves and gave evil pony death glares at the dog.

Briefing was, well, brief. I did the 25 mile LD here two years ago, and remembered most of the first loop from that, as well as the NATRC ride at the beginning of last year, which had just a little bit of overlap trail, although not much. Briefing was early, too, so we were back at the trailer by 6:00, where Cindy and I combined forces and made dinner. A final walk for the ponies to the water trough, and I was in bed by 9:00.

I was up insanely early…3:30AM, ouch. I tend to take a while to wake up, especially when it’s cold. And it was cold, 33* cold I was informed when I dropped my crewbag off. My new portable Coleman BlackCat Heater I got for Christmas worked brilliantly, and really cut the chill in the dressing room. I haven’t yet had the nerve to leave it run all night…just a bit too nervous about the whole lack of oxygen/propane thing. But it worked while I was dressing in my many layers…I think I ended up with 5 layers first thing, and was down to 3 by the time I was mounted.

Gave the ponies some more beet pulp goodies while I made breakfast for me and Dad, and finished packing snacks in the crewbag before toting it off to get taken to the away checks – vet checks 1 and 3 were away.

The ride start was at 7:00AM, and our plan was for us to start out at the back of the pack. With the walk over to the start, it was 7:05 by the time we got there, so our timing was perfect. We walked out for the first ten minutes or so, then started trotting along the shoulder of the road that makes up the first mile or so of the ride. We passed a couple people, got passed by a couple people, and watched a gorgeous sunrise before turning off onto a wide, hard-pack dirt road for another mile or two.

Mimi was a bit disheartened when we passed Jim and Cindy – she didn’t want to leave Panama behind – but Beamer was on a mission, trotting down the road, and neither did she want to get left behind. However, they caught up with and passed us within the next 15 minutes, so Mimi was once again able to get into chase mode. We turned off the road onto a beautiful single-track that twisted through palo verde trees, sagebrushy types of plants, and up and down some little hills. The single-tracks on this ride are absolutely beautiful – they are literally raked and groomed before the ride!

We hit the first water tank in about 45 minutes – there’s water about every 5 miles on this ride. Both ponies drank, then it was onto another hard-pack road and down a hill into a sand wash. Jim and Cindy passed us at this point, and we ended up riding with them for the next 30 minutes or so. More single-track at this point – lots of short up and downs that are a hallmark of riding in the Valley of the Sun, as well as some sand wash thrown in – again, another hallmark that you can’t escape from. It is literally impossible to go a mile without hitting some kind of sand wash in the entire southern half of Arizona.

The single-track and wash combination eventually spit us out onto another hard-pack dirt road that we followed for 4 miles into the first vet check at 13 miles. Both ponies drank and pulsed down to 60 within 5 minutes…not bad, considering we rode them right into the check, since the single-track that leads into the check is not very pony-leading-friendly. She still gets a bit…enthusiastic…when I get off to lead early on in the ride, and it’s just easier to stay on her back when there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver out of her way.

The hold was 30 minutes long. We vetted them through right away…all A’s for both of them…then it was time for them to spend about 20 minutes stuffing their faces with beet pulp goodies and alfalfa.

Over the last two years or so, Dad’s been part of the pilot test program for Kirt and Gina Lander’s Renegade Hoof Boots (http://www.renegadehoofboots.com). Over the summer, I fiddled with a pair of Dad’s used boots and made them fit Mimi, despite being a size too big. She normally takes 00 Easyboots in the front, 000 in the back. Yes, tiny feet. However, the Renegades are adjustable enough that I made the size 0 fit her front feet, and kept using my Easyboot Bares on her back feet.

Just in the last month, though, they came out with 00 Renegades, which Mimi broke in and proudly showed off at the ride. Now I’m going to see if I can try to “size too large” trick on her back feet and see if I can’t get the 00 Renegades to fit her back
feet. I love the Renegades – they did great on both ponies at the ride. We didn’t have a single boot come off, and the only adjustment that was made was at the first vet check, when Kirt Lander replaced a couple straps on Beamer’s boots with shorter ones.

Neither of the ponies had rubs from their boots, although Mimi’s hind fetlocks and pasterns were liberally coated in Desitin to prevent the Bare gaiters from rubbing.

We were out of the vet check right on time, and the biggest obstacle was trying to find a decent enough rock for me to get on. Mimi has no withers, so any saddle I use on her has a tendency to roll, necessitating a raised surface to scramble on from.

The second part of the first loop was a lot of single track, ups and downs, and sand wash. Some of the sand washes were quite deep, and I insisted that the ponies walk through it. We met up with Stefanie Daratony, up from Tucson, part of the way through one of the big sand washes, and started the series of leapfrogging with her that would last for the rest of the first loop and the first part of the second loop. I think it because a game for Mimi, because she was bound and determined to catch Stefanie’s horse every time he would pass us.

The last six miles of the loop are beautiful…groomed single-track, for the most part. Mimi definitely remembered this part of the trail from doing the 25 miler two years ago, and did not want to do a nice, easy working trot, necessitating stuffing her head under Beamer’s tail and letting him set a nice, sane pace.

Were back in camp in about 4 hours, including the first hold, and the ponies again pulsed down within about 5 minutes. Mimi hung at around 70 for a couple minutes, and then dropped like a rock to 48. Again, we vetted them right away, since the trailer was a bit of a walk. I really like vetting first thing, because it gives the ponies more uninterrupted eating/resting time. And again, all A’s for both ponies. Yay! We’re halfway there!

We got back to the trailer, and both ponies were too busy pounding down the food to be too concerned about why their tack was still on. Both ate more goodies, some alfalfa, and their standard fare bermuda grass. Mimi ate for about 20 minutes, then started snoozing for about 20 minutes. She woke up in time to get another 5 minutes of munching in before it was time to get to the out-timer.

We were ready to go on time, but kind of forgot to take into account that the out-timer was back in the same direction as the vetting area, which is about a 5 minute walk. After letting them get a quick drink, we ended up leaving 3 minutes after our out-time, which I still consider to be pretty good.

The very first part of the second loop is a bit nasty…very technical downhill that involves some step-downs along slick rock. I was so glad for hoofboots at that point! Both ponies handled it beautifully, tackling the technical stuff without batting an eyelash, generating lots of cheering, excitement, and claims of “future Tevis ponies” from me and Dad.

We started leapfrogging with Stefanie again, and leapfrogged back and forth with her for probably about 10 miles or so. Mimi and I had taken over leading for this loop, and she was feeling even better than she had in the first loop. The joke was that because of the “early” (for us) start, she was still half asleep during the first loop, and that’s why she was so easy to control and rate. I should have known it was too good to last.

She was feeling so good and so strong in that second loop. My shoulder and neck muscle are still a bit sore, even as I write this, from when she was pulling. It was a bit of a shock – she hasn’t pulled as much at rides of late – but on the other hand, I was thrilled to see her feeling so good!

There was a lot more sand wash on this loop, but fortunately, a lot of it was more conducive to speed work. Lots of trotting, and we even got some cantering in at a few points. By the time we got into the vet check, there were a few scattered clouds in the sky and a light breeze blowing, just enough to keep things cool.

Again, both ponies pulsed down within 5 minutes at the check, and all A’s. Beamer still had enough energy to spook at the black plastic bags off to the side of the vetting area. Due to a minor miscommunication, the crewbags weren’t brought to the third check, but I really didn’t need it, because everything was provided. They had warm bran mash, alfalfa, carrots, and blankets for the horses, and a whole assortment of food for riders. I even managed to snag a couple of warm taquitos fresh off the griddle. Yummy! They even had volunteers to hold your horse while you visited the portapotty. I think Mimi charmed some of the junior generation, a couple of girls that were taking turns holding her as she chowed down while I took a bathroom break. New recruits, maybe?

We were ready early at the end of this check, and actually had to stand around for a couple minutes in front of the water trough before heading out. They even had a mounting block at this check – talk about a luxury!

A few miles after the check, all 4 of us kind of hit the wall. It was probably about 40 miles into it, and Mimi was feeling the best out of all of us. Beamer was starting to get mopey and a bit tired, and Dad and I were both getting some pretty sore muscles. For about 4 miles, it became “trot for a minute, walk for a couple.” My wall was when I got off to walk in one of the sand washes and thought I was going to die. I sort of just shuffled along next to Mimi for about 15 minutes before scrambling back on. I was kind of amazed that I was able to get back on – I figured that my muscles were so tired, they would just say “nope, forget this” and I wouldn’t have the energy to get up without pulling my saddle.

Once we got back on again, the trail turned into a hard-pack dirt road for a couple miles, then, *finally* we were at the same number check/water stop that we hit before the last 6 miles of the first loop. The last 6 miles of both loops are the same, and that *really* perked the ponies up. Mimi about took off – it was all I could do to convince her to keep it to an 8-9mph trot, and that was considered a “slow compromise.” Oi.

Those last 6 miles were the only repeat trail of the whole ride, and it was a great trail to repeat! Again with the groomed single track, etc. We took it pretty cautiously coming in, walking down every slight grade. The last thing we wanted was to have either pony come up lame in the last 5 miles of the ride. We still had plenty of time – and daylight – left, so we took our time and moseyed. Trotted some, walked some, and crossed the finish line at 5:09 (I believe). I couldn’t resist, and let Mimi trot just ahead of Beamer into the finish. In her mind, she won the race, and there weren’t any other horses in front of her. *grin*

Things were pretty quiet at the finish, so we vetted them through straight away…again with the dropping-in-5-minutes pulse thing. The biggest challenge was getting Mimi to lift her head from the food scattered around long enough to get vetted out.

Here she earned her only non-A for the whole day, a B on gut sounds, which is a hit-or-miss thing with her half the time anyway. Considering she was stuffing her face all day, I wasn’t too concerned. They both vetted out fantastic – all A’s for Beamer again, then we walked them back to the trailer. At this point, I had retrieved my crewbag and was carrying it over my shoulder. There was still hay left in it – I had packed enough for 2 stops, and only had it at the first one. Mimi kept nudging at it until I stopped, zipped open the bag, picked it up again, and let her eat out of it, hanging off my shoulder, as we walked back to the trailer. I really wish I had a picture of her doing that.

By the time we got back, there was enough time for them to roll in the huge rodeo arena before I put their fleecies and blankets on, brushed the worst of the gunk off, pulticed their legs, and gave them a nice pan of goodies. The awards dinner is actually held at the Wickenburg Community Center, about a mile or so from ridecamp, and we were ready in time to hitch a ride over and back with Ron Barrett, who we were camped near, and who happens to be the ride manager for Man Against Horse, which was my first LD AERC ride, and the one ride I’ve been able to get to consistently for the last 3 years. He had his adorable mini-Australian Shepard Jasper with him, and Jasper decided that I looked cold, and thus became my temporary lapdog on the drive over. I would have cheerfully taken him home, he was that sweet and adorable, but I don’t think Ron wants to give up his riding and running buddy.

Things were in full swing by the time we got there, but there was still plenty of food, and the line wasn’t *too* long…*grin*. 150 riders and their crews + 200 volunteers means lots of hungry people! It is so nice, at the end of a long ride like that, to be able to sit down in a real chair at a real table, and not have to worry about balancing my food on my lap! Sautéed green chili chicken, beef brisket, beans, and coleslaw tasted really good, as did the chocolate cake – sugar fix!

We were able to get our ride pictures at dinner – photographer Laura Bovee (http://laurabovee.photostockplus.com) and daughter Hailey took some fantastic pictures – we cleaned her out of all of the ones she took of us! Photographs are one of my life indulgences, and photography is one of my side hobbies, so I love being able to support the ride photographers. I figure, the more pictures everyone buys, the more likely we are to get them to come back.

Awards were lovely, hunter green sweatshirts with the Wickenburg ride logo printed on them, and t-shirts donated by Riata Custom Saddlery. Between completion awards, check-in gifts (little neck wallet pouches – very handy!), and winning a couple big bags of horse treats for being two of the top ten people to get our entries in, we came away with a ton of great stuff! I think we came in 53rd and 54th…I may be a place or two off on the numbers, so don’t take that for verbatim (and me being a verbatim court reporter-in-training!). I believe somewhere around 80 started the 50, and 68 finished.

Got back to the trailer, pulled the ponies’ fleecies out from under their blankets, brushed the rest of the dried crud off, took them for a walk, fully wrapped their legs, called my mom to give her the ride report, then crashed. It takes us a couple hours to pack up, and with both ponies being such good campers, we didn’t see the need to be driving a couple hours home at 10:00 at night.

Got woken up about 2:00 in the morning by rain. Thank goodness for waterproof Goretex blankets. The ponies were damp on their necks in the morning, but still warm, and dry under the blankets. Packed up – like I said, about 2 hours – and we were pulling out of the rodeo grounds around 9:00 in the morning. Took us a bit longer because everything was wet, and for some reason, that makes cleanup all the much harder. *lusts after a self-contained living quarters rig* Uh huh, Ashley, get a real job first…

The ponies looked great when we got back to the barn – still raining. They were both starving, and we left them with 3 or 4 flakes of bermuda each. The day after the ride, they still looked fantastic. I turned them out in the sand arena, since it was a mud swamp in the pasture, and they were both jumping around and bucking, looking like they had gone out for a 10 mile stroll.

I was so happy with how this ride went – it’s been a long time in coming, with a lot of ups and downs for both horses, myself, and my dad, and I have to say, it finally paid off…even if I did let my exuberance get the best of me in writing the recap of the ride. *grin*

Photos to follow in a seperate post…

One thought on “Land of the Sun ride story

  1. greetings and congrats.. . saw this on endurancenet. Am a newbie rider… lived in Scottsdale once upon a time.. now we’re in montanawe’re thinking about renting (eventually to own) for the winter months in Az. Suggestions? recommendationsThanx and happy trailsGP in Montana

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