I should win an award. “Longest Time Waiting For Ride Story” or something. It’s been a year since I did the LD at McDowell Mountain Park with Beamer, and I’m just now sitting down to write about it. Timely reporting fail. It wasn’t that the ride was bad, either. I just lacked the motivation at the time to sit down and write. Then we sold the horse, and I really didn’t want to write. I think I’m finally getting to the point where I feel like writing again. Not okay with the horse being gone…will probably never be fully okay with that, because that means being okay with where my life is at right now, and that’s not happening.
So we’re going to put my memory to the test, and see how much of the ride I can remember. Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of pictures. So even if the story doesn’t turn out to be very entertaining…enjoy the photogenic horse.
Going to the ride was something of a last-minute whim. Well, last minute as in “a month ahead of time.” A month to get Beamer, who had never really been out on his own, and who had had most of the summer off, back in shape. Mimi was down for the count with an abscess, Dad was down for the count with being crazy-busy with work…I was without a horse, Beamer was without a rider. Do the math, and between the four of us, we had one functioning riding team.
He did really well in the month leading up to the ride out on his own. Dad and I took turns taking him out by himself at the San Tans, and he really impressed me, enough to where I felt comfortable with the notion of taking him to a ride, where we’d at least have other horses around us, if not riding with us. Also bolstering this confidence was the discovery that my saddle fit him. My designed-for-flat-wide-backed-horses-with-no-withers Duett actually fit him. The Skito Dryback pad provided sufficient padding to keep the saddle off his withers, and after switching between Dad’s saddle and mine, there was no determinable difference in his movement. All the sweeter for me, since I really love my saddle. (As an aside…to date, that saddle’s been on four different horses for rides, and fit all four of them. Four varying conformations. Color me impressed.)
Fast forward to the Friday of the ride. He loaded into the trailer with nary a peep (this horse has awesome trailer manners) and dug into his hay bag. Mimi, stuck in the barn, was furious, and sulked in the corner of her stall as we left. I tried to bribe her with food, but that only went so far…
McDowell is about an hour away from the barn, and an easy drive. We got there early afternoon, and as soon as I opened up the trailer, Beamer looked around, gave the horsey equivalent of a shoulder shrug, and hopped out of the trailer. I’m sure it really helped that he’d done two previous rides there — another reason I felt this would be a good ride for us. This may have bitten us in the butt at some point…but more on that later.
We wandered around camp for a few minutes, him on a loose lead, taking in the sights. Then it was back to the trailer, and he got installed on Mimi’s side of the trailer — and her HiTie. He’d been on the HiTie approximately once before, and that was only after he had gone 25 miles. Didn’t phase him at all, although he didn’t entirely catch on to the “I can turn myself around in a circle” concept. He did like the “more moving space” concept.
|If I didn’t know for a fact this was Beamer (and the blue
bucket to prove it), I would swear it was The Pony.
He’s a really good camper, and we ended up with horses next to us and horses behind us, so he was surrounded by a safe, horsey companion bubble.
|Vet-In. Dr. Rick knows me…and he knows Beamer. Just not
together. Had a couple moments of amused confusion.
We went over and vetted in, pausing along the way to explain to several people that “No, my pony didn’t grow; No, I didn’t technically get a new horse; Yes, that horse is familiar because it’s actually my father’s horse.” Vetting went off without a hitch, and I have to pause for a moment to admire Beamer’s trot. Even his lazy trot (which he did for that vet-in) is nicer than Mimi’s best trot. Arab versus non-Arab, I guess. (And younger and sound versus older and fused hocks.) He also vetted in barefoot, which was awesome. Beautiful decomposed granite that makes up the parking lot means great footing for trot-outs.
My biggest challenge was going to be pre-riding on Friday. It’s a necessity with Beamer. He needs that time to blow off some steam, even if it’s just a couple of miles. He’s usually higher than a kite, and feels like riding a powder-keg, per my father. If we could get through this –alone — than we’d probably stand a chance of managing the ride just fine. We just had to survive Friday afternoon.
I’ll admit — I had more than a few nerves going on at this point. Beamer is a lot bigger than I’m used to (five inches, to be exact) and a very powerful horse. He’d tossed me off on a couple of occasions very shortly after we got him, and I’ve been a bit wary of him ever since. So we started off hand-walking down the service road the 25s would the starting on the next morning. The other necessity for me with Beamer is a mounting block of sorts. I don’t flat-mount 15hh horses. About a hundred yards or so down the trail, I spotted some nice sturdy rocks just off the trail and used them to slither on.
Beamer was definitely up, and we tiptoed our way down the trail. He gave me a couple head shakes on one of the downhills, suggesting how very much he would like to trot…and subsequently buck. I declined. We walked. We probably went out another mile or so, then turned around. Heading home, I allowed him some very brief controlled trotting moments. He reminds me of a pressure cooker: You have to bleed the steam off slowly, in a controlled manner. If you let it all out at once, your lid is going to explode and hit the ceiling.
Once we got back to camp, we stood around talking to a few people around the check-in/vet-in area, and he was great. Standing there all relaxed and curious about what was happening. He drank some at the trough, then we meandered back to the trailer. He got dinner, and I got a ride briefing.
He was a great camper overnight…I never even heard him out there. I did have to remember to talk to him when I’d open up the door, otherwise the sudden opening of the dressing room door would tend to startle him.
Specifics escape me, but I want to say we had a fairly early start…6:30, maybe? I was up super-early to allow myself plenty of time to eat, put Beamer’s Renegades on, mess with saddlepacks, and the whole “new and different horse” thing. Fortunately, the vet check between Loop One (15 miles) and Loop Two (10 miles) was back in camp, so I didn’t have to pack the crew box or worry about getting food together.
Got my coffee and gave Beamer his breakfast, then set to work nibbling on something for myself. I have to eat on ride mornings — years of show training instilled an almost instinctive ability to eat, despite nerves and busy-ness — but I can’t eat quickly. In between bites of hard-boiled egg and peanut butter toast, I slipped Beamer’s boots on. This horse was made for Renegades. They go on so easy and fit his feet perfectly. They were the one thing I wasn’t worried about at all, since I’ve been with Dad and Beamer for every one of their miles and seen their track record with these boots.
(He’s had two boots come off in a period of five years. Earlier on, we had trouble with Beamer wearing out the Velcro straps very quickly, especially in the highs. He’d drag his toes and roll the Velcro. Shortening his toes ended that problem.)
Dad came up to crew for us, since home was only about half an hour away. His help was appreciated, and most important, his moral support. He knows the horse much better than I do, too, so he’d be able to give me feedback at the vetcheck of how Beamer looked. (One of Beamer’s nicknames, given in one of my not-so-charitable moments, is “Sandbagger.” He can be the biggest lazy-a** of a horse sometimes, and doesn’t necessarily love haaaaaard work.) Dad knows the difference between “Sandbag Beamer” and “Tired Beamer.”
Dad was also responsible for getting a ton of pictures of us, since I wasn’t brave enough to bring my camera along. I was planning on two hands on the reins at all times, never mind taking pictures.
Beamer is almost disgustingly calm on the ground. Really, he has fabulous ground manners. Please note the “no hands on the lead” display. One of these days, I’m going to run across a horse that actually requires me to pay attention on the ground…
I did my last-minute tack fidgets, gave Beamer his accustomed couple circles of lunging, took a deep breath, and scrambled on. It was still plenty early, and I had timed things just right to give me my accustomed 15 minutes of warm-up. We walked up to the start and walked circles. Most amusingly, the only behavioral indiscretion on Beamer’s part came when we’d turn and start walking away from the start. He threatened to hop up and down a couple times, and then settled as soon as we faced the starting area again.
|Up, but keeping it together. The tail is only at half-mast,
which is a good sign. The grin isn’t faked, either.
Okay, this is good. He wants to go.
We started off pretty much in the middle of the pack, which is how Beamer prefers it. The warm-up time allowed us to go right along at a trot. He really held it together, despite the horse with the grass hula skirt that was right on his tail. I could tell it was concerning him, so I let them pass, and he relaxed.
We hit a sand wash almost immediately, and I was able to let him move out at a nice trot. I got a few head-shakes out of him when I’d check him, but again…keeping it together.
|Alerting on the hula skirt behind us.|
The wash was only a short stretch, and then we connected up to the Scenic Trail that runs along a ridgeline with a fabulous view of the Verde River in the distance. Halfway up the hill, I experienced one of Beamer’s acrobatic feats. Tired of me checking him, wondering why the horses ahead of him all disappeared around the corner, and concerned about the horses in the wash below us, he let out an impressive buck. While trotting. On a rocky singletrack. Uphill.
This horse is an athletic freak.
I checked him, let out some colorful language, and we kept moving forward. Made some pretty good time along the ridgeline, and he didn’t spook at the bench that Mimi always spooks at. It’s really a pretty trail, and I love the 360* views. When I’ve done the ride in the past, the 50s didn’t do this section of trail until the afternoon, and by then it was hot, and not nearly as much fun.
Down on the other side of the mountain, there was a water stop at the road, and the ride photographer stationed nearby.
|Photographer Dean Stanton got a great series of pics. B
was alert, a little wary, but the end result was beautiful!
He wasn’t much interested in water, but given that it was only five or so miles into the ride, I wasn’t surprised.
|Stopped for the road crossing. He didn’t want to stop.|
There were sufficient horses around us that he was plenty motivated to keep going, and wanted to do more than trot. Given we had only gone about five miles, and given that he had already displayed some vertical hind-end enthusiasm, I elected for a trot. He’s got a big trot when he’s motivated.
This section of the park is probably my least favorite, especially as you approach the northwestern-most corner. The trail has a lot of blind curves and is quite brushy in some places. B has never been fond of it either, but we made it through unscathed, with only one bike popping up behind us and startling B.
There was another water stop at the far end of this loop. I actually hopped off here to adjust my pad (general endurance cut, no billet straps, so it tends to wiggle about under my saddle) and sloshed a bit of water on B’s neck. He did not appreciate the gesture, even though he was fuzzy (I had clipped his neck earlier in the week, and braided his mane that morning) and getting sweaty. He also didn’t drink. Again, we’d only come 10 miles or so, but he usually drinks by this point. Internalized nerves were probably interfering to some degree.
The benefit of riding a horse you enough is younger, tougher, and has more natural athleticism than your own horse? You only lose a couple of minutes worrying about them before taking the tough love, “they’ll learn not to ignore water when it’s offered” tactic. Me being me, though…I still worried a bit. But I didn’t waste time trying to bribe him. Found a suitable dirt pile and scrambled back on. (13.3hh is sounding better all the time.)
A little ways past the water stop, one of my rear boot bags started flopping around, and I did my best to jerry-rig it in place without getting off the horse. Also, with only using one hand, since I didn’t trust him enough to let go of both reins. It sorta stayed in place…until we started trotting again. Yanked it off and clipped it to the front of my saddle, where I could hold it in place.
Shortly beyond this point, we got off the nice single-track and into a wash. A rather deep wash that’s really shrubby on both sides. Beamer got very up and this point, so I hopped off to walk him, lest someone come up behind us and send him launching. This was my major tactical mistake of the ride. I got off to walk…and couldn’t get back on. There wasn’t a good, safe place to mount, and whenever I’d go to get on, Beamer would sidle away. So we walked.
Did I mention this wash was about two miles long? I hand-walked all. of. it. Unfortunately, this really cost us some serious time. Finally got out of the wash and to the water stop. Beamer drank, I sponged him, and tied my boot bag back in place. And re-adjusted my saddle pad. Again.
I was hot, sweaty, and a little bit peeved at this point, and a bit annoyed that there wasn’t a suitable place to get on. (Ya think you should learn to flat-mount a tall horse, O’ Out-of-Shape One?)
So I ended up hand-walking out of the water stop. Note to self: When someone offers to give you a hand, take them up on it. Tried getting on a couple more times past the stop, and B wasn’t having it. He was liking this whole “rider walks” gig.
|Low point…leading out because I can’t figure out how to get
back on my horse.
I finally found a large pile of rocks that were used to surround one of the trail signs. As Beamer sidled away one more time, the end of my reins might have connected with his shoulder, and I might have called him some very colorful names…but it made my point. I was done with his games.
Funny enough, he stepped right up to the rocks after that. Epic mounting fail on my part was what followed next. I knew it was a bad spot to get on, but there was literally nothing else to use. So as I hopped up and swung my leg, my foot hit the metal sign.
Kudos to Beamer…he really held it together. That would have been enough to incite a bucking fit, but all he did was surge forward, with his butt tucked in concern and head up. Fortunately I had my reins. Only one stirrup, though. So he redeemed himself, although I considered spooking him my revenge for the endless walking.
Now it was a mission to make up time. We got trotting, and then cantering. He’s got a great canter. The textbook, rocking-horse kind of canter. It’s not super-speedy, but we clip along, and it’s really surefooted. Best part was the trail was a gentle downhill grade, and he felt perfectly balanced and comfortable. (Can’t safely canter downhill on an already-downhill-built pony.)
Time was of the essence now…which is of course why he decided the water trough at the next road crossing looked delicious. Guess he figured out that “use it or lose it” thing…
The way back into camp was The Wash that McDowell is infamous for — two miles of fairly deep sand. Having done this ride twice, Beamer knows this wash. He was a trooper heading down it, though — probably helped that we were heading for “home.”
|Sorta dragging in at the end of Loop One. Grin is for the
camera, since I was more grim at this point.
We trotted most of the back in, and I hopped off just outside of camp. Dad was waiting for us, a bit concerned because we were pretty near the tail-end of the pack.
By the time we walked in, I loosened my girth, let him drink, and removed his S-hack, B was down. Wow, that horse pulses in fast. (It was probably less than two minutes.)
He vetted in great…I want to say all As.
|He doesn’t even look tired. I, OTOH, look wilted.|
We had an hour hold, during which time I managed to sit down for probably ten whole minutes. (Tevis practice.) I stripped tack for whatever reason, which is the first time I can recall ever doing so. I suspect it had something to do with the heat, and the fact we were back at the trailer, so could dump it on a saddle tack. I think I wanted to pull the saddle pad out and reset the whole thing in an effort to keep the pad from wiggling so much.
In that hour, I managed to: untack, feed the horse, eat, pull off the annoying boot bags, check the GPS (alarmingly, the “15” mile loop was clocking in at 18), take a potty break, shed my long-sleeve t-shirt, re-tack, and be in the saddle again five minutes before my out-time.
|A little effort, B? Both of my feet are off the ground.|
I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles. I had an hour and half to finish. I wasn’t sure I could make it…but I was going to try.
B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the “go” from the out-timer.
I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles. I had an hour and half to finish. I wasn’t sure I could make it…but I was going to try.
|Waiting to head out on Loop Two.|
B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the “go” from the out-timer. I wanted to make sure he was plenty warmed-up so we could hit the ground running…okay, trotting. I was determined to make every second of the second loop count.
The impressive trot lasted until we hit the sand wash again (all of about ten seconds…) and then it was back to peddle-peddle-peddle for the next two miles. I’d get a bit of a peddle-trot out of him, then we’d slouch to a walk again. Peddle-trot-slouch-walk. There were two riders behind me, and we leapfrogged up the wash this way. None of our horses were particularly motivated or wanted to lead, so the old “go ahead, follow the one in front of you” standby wasn’t working so well. Once we hit the single-track again, he picked up. (Why does this surprise me…it happened this way the other two times.)
Of course we had to stop at the water trough at the road crossing again. After that, we did got a good clip going. Until we hit the next wash. B slowed down, but I wheedled, peddled, coaxed, cajoled, and encouraged him up the wash at a respectable trot. Motivation was trying to stay ahead of the two ladies behind us. He did really good, and got a lot of “atta boy” praises along the way.
Once we hit single-track, he picked it up again, and we really upped the speed with some nice stretches of cantering. There was enough up and down on the trail that it really broke things up…good for the rest, but harder to keep up a good average pace.
The trail eventually looped back around to the same water stop from earlier in the day…and this time, I stayed mounted. (She eventually catches on, that one…) He drank, then we boogied.
|I love this picture. :) Heading home for the final stretch.|
We were both familiar with this stretch right after the water, and we flew. I was so impressed with B…he was cantering along on a loose rein, cheerfully watching the trail. At one point, we had an impressive skid moment…he hit a slick batch of decomposed granite and both hind feet skidded forward…and he never missed a beat. Still kept right on cantering. See above re: Athletic Freak.
We were clipping right along…came to the road crossing again, he drank (again), and then we hit the wash. And B hit the wall. Didn’t matter how much I begged, pleaded, peddled, cajoled, prodded, whatnot…he wasn’t gonna go. Nope, not down that wash again. He’d cheerfully walk out, but he wasn’t going to trot again. Well, we had about a mile and half to go…and five minutes to make it. Well, that wasn’t going to happen.
I was bummed, but resigned. He’d done his best, and really, done more than I expected: 25 miles, all by himself. I’m guessing he was just mentally done at this point and tired of being on his own. We ended up coming in about 20 minutes overtime. *sigh* I’d called Dad from down in the wash to let him know.
Just as a courtesy, we pulsed down (B was something in the low 40’s, so he wasn’t physically tired, just mentally a bit done-in for the day. He still looked really perky and was starving back at the trailer.) and did an exit check and turned in my vet card.
We took B back to the trailer and cleaned him up and let him rest while we packed up the trailer. (Ooo, forgot how nice finishing while it’s still early afternoon can be.)
So I was really tickled with B, even if we didn’t officially complete. But wait…there’s an epilogue to this story…
Remember when I said I GPS’d the first loop at 18 miles? Well, when I pulled my boot bags off at lunch, I forgot to pull out my GPS to record the second loop. A couple days post-ride, I get an e-mail from the trail master of the ride, wondering if I had a GPS track of the LD. No, not the whole thing…but I have the first loop. Okay, she says. We believe there were some mileage discrepancies, and I’m going to go out to the park today and ride the LD trail myself.
A couple days later, I hear from her and the ride manager: the 25 actually GPS’d closer to 29 miles, therefore the mileage was being increased to a 30…and the completion time extended by an hour and fifteen minutes. Which means we actually got our finish. Yeah!!!
We ended up coming in 33rd out of 38, with a ride time of 5:32.
I can’t believe how much of that I remembered. It was clearly a good ride for me to recall so much. I really had fun, and was pleased as punch with how Beamer did.