The Path So Far…Looking Back on Six Years of Endurance (Updated with Pictures!)

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my foray into endurance. October 1, 2005, I did my first 25-mile LD ride at the Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, AZ.  It’s a ride I’ve attended every year since, and high on my list of favorite rides.

It’s been an incredible six years.  Even with my current hiatus status, I have every intention of returning to the sport as soon as I’m able, and still keep abreast of current happenings and goings-on.  After doing seemingly a little bit of everything within the horse world, I’ve finally found my niche in endurance.
So you’ll pardon my somewhat stream-of-consciousness style of putting this post together (not to mention a long-a** post), but I’m writing things as they come to me…in flashes of inspiration, often the same way the realization of an event as a learning moment struck.
Enjoy the view…it might have taken a while to get there.
Saguaro Lake, January 2011

Patience, grasshopper.  Endurance has taught me nothing if not patience.  Patience with my horse, myself, my riding companions, the other competitors.  I can only control so much of what happens…the rest requires a (sometimes large) dose of patience.
The journey is now.  I admit this one comes and goes.  I am guilty of extreme forward-thinking, even having a potential ride schedule mapped out two to three years in advance of a specific goal. *cough*Tevis*cough*  The consequence of this means being disappointed on a regular basis…best laid plans and all.  It’s been a task to rein myself in and to learn to live in the moment…make each mile count, to find the special in every ride, to appreciate the quiet whuffling (okay, pig-like snorting) of your horse as the two of you share an apple.  Don’t get so caught up in the big picture and reaching an ultimate destination that you forget to enjoy the journey along the way, because there’s no guarantee you’ll even reach that final goal.
     Ex.: As anyone that’s read this blog for more than a page knows, Tevis was always my ultimate goal with Mimi.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  In the back of my mind, I think I realistically knew it would take a miracle to get us to the start line.  The optimist in me never stopped dreaming.  But in our last year of competition together, that little voice in my head made me very aware of the good times.  Our last ride — and pull — not withstanding, the two rides prior to that were the best rides I could ever hope for from Mimi.  Man Against Horse 50 and Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50, both in 2009, were textbook rides that I will always treasure.  There are some fantastic memories etched into my mind from those rides:

Man Against Horse
– Starting in the thick of the pack, Mimi’s ears flattened, weaving through horses and runners. 
– Trotting along the road that leads to the climb up the back side of Mingus Mountain.  Through the worst of the hard-pack and rock portion of the road and onto where it turns into smooth double-track.  Mimi was leading, trotting along the road on a loose rein, playfully ducking at the metal culverts on the side of the road, and I was cheerfully singing at the top of my lungs.
– Picking through the rocks near the top of Mingus Mtn.
– Leading through the woods on the way down to the third vet check, on a loose rein, blitzing through the single-track trail, in perfect sync.  Smooth, perfectly in control, checking herself on downhills, balanced around turns.
– Crossing the finish line.  We were walking in…no sense in tripping on a gopher hole in the last 100 yards, but she still had to out-walk Beamer and cross the finish line ahead of him.  (She won, in her mind.)  I cried when I leaned over to hug her as she marched under that finish banner, I was so proud of her.  This ride was our Tevis.

VotS Turkey Trot
– Smashed in the middle of a whole bunch of horses invading her personal space at the controlled start, and doing nothing more than the Pony Sneer.
– Trying to dump me by spooking at the bench at the top of the ridgeline trail.  At 30-something miles into the ride.

– Leading down a single-track trail that made its way towards basecamp, at dusk.  Her lightly stepping over every single inlaid anti-erosion log on the trail, at a trot, and not tripping once.

– Doing a show-perfect sliding stop in the middle of said trail to stare at a barrel cactus.
– Riding the last three miles back to camp in the dark, no glowstick or lights of any kind.  Trotting along in the big sand wash, with her politely ignoring me when I tried to steer us down a dead-end trail.  She was absolute perfection and I had total trust in her.  She never missed a step.

Flexibility.  See above, with best-laid plans.  Endurance riders have to, by necessity and survival, learn to be flexible and adapt.  Expect the unexpected, and not to be too fatalistic, plan for the worst…or, at least, have a back-up plan.  Horses are unpredictable creatures, and endurance adds in that many more factors to amplify that tendency.  
“Nobody likes a sissy.”  Words to live by, spoken (well, Facebooked) by friend and fellow endurance rider Renee Robinson.  It’s become somewhat of a catch-phrase now, and it is so true.  With limited time, budgetary constraints, and availability of rides within reasonable traveling distance, I couldn’t afford to be a fair-weather rider.  As a result, I’ve gotten wet at half of the rides I’ve done.  This desert rat is closer to a drowned desert rat.  But that’s a lot of rides I would have missed out on due to potentially-inclement weather.  Mimi, however, has no such qualms about her sissy status, and will proudly admit it from her warm, dry stall.  She doesn’t do cold, wet rides, and has told me so in so many words.  And when I don’t get the message, she grants me a tie-up as thanks.
Have Gore-Tex, will travel
Las Cienegas ride, December 2006

Gore-Tex, or go home.  If you’re gonna stick it out in the wet, you gotta have the goods.  And by that, I mean Gore-Tex.  Two failed “waterproof” coats later, Gore-Tex is the only way to go.  The one I have is from Cabela’s.  It’s a nice light, layer-able shell. This is the updated version: Cabela’s PacLite Rainy River Parka.  They periodically go on sale, which is when I got mine, along with a set of matching rain pants.  Ideally, my next coat will have snaps in addition to the zipper.

We’ll never have all the answers.  Why do they tie up?  How much electrolytes should I give?  Why aren’t they drinking better?  Why did the vet check move?  Where’d the ribbons go?  Boot check?  Where’s my crew bag box?  A few tongue-in-cheek questions mixed in there among the serious, but it makes the same point: There will always be questions.  Sometimes, we’ll be fortunate enough to know the answers.  Some questions, we’ll never know the answers.  (Like that maddening tie-up one.)  But part of the endurance adventure is the ability to try to find those answers…and ask the questions.

Crew boxes rock.  With two people and two horses and a whole ton of stuff, a box is a lot easier to pack than multiple bags.  And everything ends up being easier to find, since Murphy’s Law comes in and rearranges my crew bag after I’ve packed it, shuffling exactly what I’ll need to the bottom of the bag, so everything has to be unpacked to get to it.  Which brings me to the crew bag/box rule: It never fits in the same way again.  Despite emptying it of food, water, and horse food at every check, there’s less room for everything to fit back in again.

Endurance people are some of the nicest, most helpful people out there.  I’m constantly amazed at the selflessness, generosity, and helpful spirits I encounter along the trail.  People have loaned me horses, opened up their homes for me to visit, mentored me, shown me new trails, taken me to rides, and have never failed to be there when needed.  I’m so, so grateful and thankful to every single one of you.

post-ride to Christopher Creek in Payson, Sept 2010

Hug your horse.  At the end of the day, they’re your partner.  I’ve been lucky enough to have shared the trail with my equine soul mate and forever heart horse who has given me her all.  So remember to thank them for that…every ride is special.

Rider management matters.  Don’t get so caught up in caring for your horse you forget to take care of yourself.  Eat, sleep, exercise.  I’m not advocating crazy diet plans or being marathon-fit…just be sensible.  The better you are, the better it is for your horse.

Desert Forest NATRC, March 2007, Wickenburg, AZ.
Going up “mini Cougar Rock”

“You don’t know how far you can go until you’ve gone too far.” (Julie Suhr)  There’s a fine line between pushing out of the comfort zone and going over the edge.  But you don’t know until you try.  That risk is part of endurance.  And sometimes, you’ll be surprised at what you accomplish.

At the end of the day, SMILE!  You’re riding your horse in beautiful country, some of which can only be seen from horseback.  And remember, it’s called ENDURANCE for a reason!

view from the Highline Trail, just below the Mogollon Rim
Payson, September 2010

snow-covered Superstitions
view from the San Tan Mtn Park
January 2010

Picketpost Mtn
February 2011

One thought on “The Path So Far…Looking Back on Six Years of Endurance (Updated with Pictures!)

  1. Fabulous post. I'll second everything you said. That Julie Suhr quote is right on. You DON'T know until you try. Obviously, trying to do 4 100's in 13 months was too much for me and Farley. But I didn't know that until I tried. There isn't always clear signals when you are close to that line – and the sometimes the best you can hope for is to learn from when you do stray across it.

Thanks for reading! Comments are always welcome!

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