Well, that didn’t go according to plan. Up to this point in my endurance career, I’ve been very fortunate: my only pulls have been rider option or overtime.
This was my first real vet pull — lameness. Liberty and I got through the first 16-mile loop…and got pulled for “something” in the right hind. The good news is there’s no heat or swelling, and she didn’t seem sensitive or touchy, so I’m hoping it’s something minor. And was perfectly sound again Sunday morning, and went blasting around the arena at Bumble Bee Ranch to prove it. (Thinking muscle, since she was stiff walking away from the trailer after standing for a few hours in the afternoon, but walked out of it after a dozen strides, or maybe a lack of electrolytes?)
It was a rocky, technical trail, with a few “not watching my feet” stumbles, coupled with the fact that in-between the rocky areas, we had to do some moving out…probably a little more than she was ideally ready for.
But that aside, I was really, really happy with the rest of the day and how well Liberty did.
I procured a rental car Friday morning, stuffed it with half the contents of my garage, and headed out about noon. Bumble Bee is only about an hour and half from my house — ended up a little closer to two hours with some of the Phoenix traffic.
I love the Bumble Bee Ranch basecamp. Total luxury with bathrooms, showers, permanent corrals you can rent, and a nice, flat, wide open field for basecamp. Once there, I got myself checked in for the ride, as well as settling up with the ranch for corrals and the overnight camping fees. (Super reasonable — $10 for the first corral, $5 for the second, and $10 for dry camping, all per night.)
I spent part of the afternoon socializing and getting caught up with people while waiting for Kirt and Gina to arrive with horses. They made good time out of Kingman and were there with plenty of time for us to unload the horses and walk them around camp before vetting in.
The last time I saw Liberty was this ride two years ago, but it was like hardly any time had gone by. Maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing here, but I like to think Big Mare likes me…and she totally brings out my inner 8-year-old child that likes to squeal with delight and festoon the pony with glitter and neon colors.
Liberty’s a bit of a “work in progress” when it comes to her ground manners – she likes to shove at you with her nose, and fling her head around, so she got a fingernail poke to her muzzle (several times) for her troubles. She was really good for the vet, though – stood politely, didn’t fuss about having her legs handled, and didn’t mind having her mouth opened and examined. And she actually trotted through the trot-out versus her impressive cantering in-hand last time.
She vetted in with all As, although her 44 pulse was higher from what it has been in the past…probably in response to her “best friends” being in different places…but that’s how she learns and eventually settles.
Because someone (Liberty…) has been known to dig holes to China when tied to the trailer, we opted to rent corral spaces from the ranch, and stashed the horses (Liberty, Gina’s horse Yankee, and Liberty’s pasturemate Wicked) in there overnight. As much as I like having them at the trailer, there’s a part of me that doesn’t miss listening to boinging hi-ties and clattering buckets all night long.
Liberty got to ground-tie via the “grass to graze on” method while I worked on detangling her mane (long, thick, silky, and forms the most impressive witchy-knots ever), then once she was all beautiful and tangle-free, they got stashed in the corrals, and we headed over for dinner and the ride meeting.
Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a good spread of spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and Caesar salad, plus brownies and ice cream for dessert. I stuffed my face, in-between socializing and catching up with people, and then the ride meeting started.
The trail was the same as two years ago (two loops, first was 16 miles and the second 9 miles, with an hour hold in-between), pulse criteria was 64 at the hold, 60 at the finish. Pink ribbons to mark the trail, orange ribbons to mark the turns, don’t cross the flour lines.
I had pretty much packed and organized my saddle before leaving home – just had to stick my vet card and map in there, and then debate over which saddle pad to use after an interesting discussion with Kirt over the pros and cons of the various pad inserts.
The last time I did this ride, we started late, and I was determined not to make that mistake again, so set the alarm for 5:30 to give myself 2 hours before the start. Friday night sleep before a ride is a pretty elusive thing for me, and this time was no exception…lots of “drift off, wake up” on and off throughout the night, but eventually the alarm went off and I crawled out of bed, dressed, then headed over to the pavilion where they had coffee available all night long. (And heated bathrooms. Like I said, luxury.)
Breakfast was a quick affair – coffee, a cranberry cereal bar, and a string cheese, and then we brought the horses back over to the trailer to tack up. Working for a boot company (and riding their horse) means being an in-field guinea pig test subject…and we had the mis-matched boots to prove it. Yes, we’re testing some new colors.
Liberty is so nice and calm for things like tacking up…just stands still and quiet and doesn’t fuss or fidget. (And no pawing!) She was also really good about having her hind legs handled/booted (she’s been “quick” about that in the past where she snatches her leg up really fast and isn’t patient about holding it up). I had to do some major fiddling with her headstall to get the s-hackamore to fit well – I’m actually running into the same problem with her as I do with Mimi, and that is too short of head length to fit the hackamore and halter both on and still have chinstrap clearance/functionality but not have the noseband too low. Ah, well…something to mess with in the future, and maybe look at something that is custom sized for her particular dimensions.
Even with all of my fiddling, we still had a buffer of about 10 minutes, so mounted up and started making our way over to the start line. Liberty had one “Uh, I don’t know about this moment” in which she very gracefully turned around and tried for a swift exit back to the trailer – very smooth and barely even broke into a trot – so I just laughed, took lots of deep breaths, and walked her back towards the starting area. Once we started moving she really settled, then stood quietly at the start area while we checked in and gave our numbers.
There wasn’t a controlled start for the 25s, so we let the first half a dozen people light out of their with their butts on fire, and then no one else seemed to be in a major rush, so we made our way our down the lane around camp and through the ranch barnyard. This was a major sticking point two years ago for us – 15 minutes to get by all the tractors, equipment, and GOATS. This year, she eyeballed everything, and sort of danced her way by the goat pen, but she didn’t balk and we made it through at a nice walk, even a bit of trotting.
I wanted to get her out and get her moving down the trail, which we did for about the first mile, and then I backed her off and Gina put Yankee out front. Last time, Liberty had Issues with being behind Wicked, and would start crowhopping and bucking when she was behind…but she also didn’t necessarily want to be brave and go in front, and it was only with extreme pedaling that I got her going. This time, I wanted to see what she would do…and then deal with it as necessary.
She did have some “happy feet” moments, mostly related to Yankee out-trotting her, especially on more of a downhill, but she was totally controllable, and it was more sheer enthusiasm than any kind of dirty tricks, maliciousness, fear, or rodeo-bronc impressions. In short: very rideable. (Especially with a nice handful of that thick mane.) She also gives pretty good warning, so I was able to catch her usually on the first hop, and have her head popped up and heel dug into her side, so she never got to stop, nor did she get to go faster or get ahead.
It took probably about 5 or 6 miles for her to settle in, but unlike last time, we were in the thick of the pack of 25s, as well as 50s re-joining shared trail. We were so far behind last time, we really didn’t have to deal with anyone passing us or needing to pass. This time, we did. This has been a questionable area for us in the past – Liberty has something of a “happy feet” reputation and I’ve been super-diligent about never giving her the opportunity to try any kicking or naughtiness.
Gina describes her as “unsocialized” with other horses, since she usually rides her alone, or with maybe one other person, so all of these new horses had Liberty more amped up, especially coming into communal areas like water troughs…but she stayed perfectly controllable. She had a couple of moments where, when passing someone, she tried to get in one of her crowhops, but I never felt like she was targeting the other horse or actively kicking out. Definitely progress. At one point, Yankee even rear-ended her while we were on a single-track trail, and all she did was pin her ears. Good girl.
The first half of loop one is a mix of sand wash and double-track dirt road – a good place to make time. The second half is the fun part – about 7 or so miles of single-track on the Black Canyon Trail. Lots of twists, turns, bits of rock and some technical stuff…and one of my favorite trails. This was the part I had been saving Liberty’s mental energy for, and Gina and I traded spots for Liberty and I to move up to the front.
She was just a little hesitant at first, and then she spied some horses gradually approaching behind us, and she locked onto the trail and kicked it into gear. This was the best. time. ever. and probably one of my favorite moments thus far of riding this mare.
I didn’t even pull out my camera this time – too “in the zone” to want to mess with it, I guess.
She did some really smart footwork, no spook, no hesitation, just locked on and solid. There were a few moments in some of the rocky areas that we had to have some “discussions” about slowing down and paying attention to one’s feet. (But her toes were also a little long, too.) I had changed out the standard curb chain on her s-hack to a solid beta one, as she just seemed a little fussy and sensitive to the “bite” of the chain. That did the trick in that she didn’t do any head tossing or slinging under saddle this time, and while I had to be a little stronger with her at times, I was able to have more contact with her face without her dropping off the contact or going behind the vertical to get away from the chain. Again, headgear will be something interesting to play with in the future, as she needs some work on bending, giving, unlocking her shoulders, and *using* that wonderful rear end for things like turns and pivots. (Thinking some “back to basics” snaffle work, and then maybe into a Myler Combination bit.)
The last section of trail into camp is super-fun – a large sand wash with an actively running (ok, trickling) stream. Last time, Liberty only went into the water after her pasture-mate did…this time, Yankee was the one eyeing the water and Liberty was the one who bravely splashed through.
Photographer Susan Kordish and her husband John usually set up around this area and get some amazing photos – it is such a pretty spot that I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about “photos that look the same.” (Which, if you think about it, can be sort of asinine – photos taken in certain spots at certain rides become “iconic” versus “the same” – how many people complain about “oh, another Cougar Rock photo”? People start to know the Bumble Bee photos because of the uniqueness of that much water in the middle of the desert, versus “just another landscape of cactus and rocks.” Ok, soapbox moment over.)
This year was no exception, and I came away with yet another photo I’m calling “my favorite ride photo.” I don’t know what her secret is, but Susan is 3/3 now in producing at least one stunner of a photo from every ride Liberty and I have done together.
This section was another area where Liberty demonstrated she had really grown up in the course of two years – there’s a large section of the wash that is dry sand, topped with dry, crunchy, rustling leaves. Liberty is super-sensitive to rustling types of noises (high reactive to the possibility of snakes, as she comes out of a snake-infested area) and two years ago, we tiptoed through this area, as anything more than that threated to set her off. This year, she trotted through the wash, spraying sand on the leaves and not giving even an ear flick.
She also paused in the middle of the wash to relieve herself with a nice big pee in the soft, fluffy sand. Yay for peeing under saddle.
Right when we were entering the ranch again after exiting the wash, Liberty gave me her one true spook of the entire ride – we had just tiptoed past a cattle guard, giving it a healthy side-eye, and she was now fixated on the large metal horse sculptures next to the road when a pickup truck popped up behind us and she did a hard spook about five feet to the side and really slammed her feet into the ground.
We proceeded to make our way around camp and back to the same lane we had gone out on, and in an effort to save some time and avoid a “Horses Who Stare At Goats” incident, I hopped off and started leading her on foot through the yard and down the lane. At one point, I had her in a slow jog, and out of the corner of my eye, saw her head dip a time or two…but she was also jostling with Yankee for a spot on the road, and looking at all the ridecamp activity, and we were in a crowd of other people and horses, so I didn’t think much of it.
Her under-saddle walk might be slow, but we made some time on foot, even passing a few people coming into the check. She got a quick drink while I loosened her girth and got my in-time card (in at 10:09AM), and by the time that was done and we went to get her pulsed in, she was already down to 60. Total time: two minutes.
There was only one other person ahead of us in the vet line, so we went over to vet right away. Again, she vetted really well – one B on skin tenting, the rest As, and good gut sounds…but when we went to trot off, she didn’t want to immediately trot…took me until about ¾ of the way down the trot lane to get her to trot. So when we got back to the vet, he asked to see her trot again. She trotted that time, but when we got back, the vet didn’t look particularly thrilled…said she was knuckling over weird on her right hind fetlock.
Kirt pulled Liberty’s boots off, in case there was anything in there, I swapped her reins to her halter instead of her s-hack for less head interference, the vet got one of the other vets to watch, and we trotted a third time. Apparently still something there, although she was still trying to enthusiastically run over me on the way back. (More things to work on: in-hand trotting manners.) They held my vet card for a re-check at the end of the hour hold, although one of the vets said that if she looked the same at the end of the hour, he wasn’t going to let me go back out, because she was borderline between grade 1 and 2.
I did a really good job holding it together until after we got back to the trailer and I had Liberty settled in front of a hay bag, bridle off, and fleece blanket on her butt. I started poking and prodding, massaging her rump muscles, feeling for any tight spots or sensitive areas. I eventually worked my way down to her lower legs…and completely freaked out when I felt a warm spot on the inside of her leg above the fetlock. Lost it, right then and there…absolute flood of waterworks, since I assumed the worst and figured I had broken her. Not even my horse yet, and I had already managed to break her.
Sane and rational Gina came over, felt the area, reached over to the other leg and felt the corresponding area, and gently pointed out that the sides of her legs that were facing the full sun were both equally warm.
Dark horse + sun exposure = warm hair.
Kirt and Gina shooed me away to go take care of myself and get food/hydration while Kirt worked on giving Liberty a full hind-end massage and stretch. So I grabbed string cheese and grumble-texted my core group of endurance buddies about our current state. I did kind of a poor job of eating – I think I’m regressing in my self-care abilities, or I was just too distracted/worried to think properly – but I managed a string cheese, an energy bar thing, an applesauce, and the rest of my green juice from the morning.
Ten minutes before our out time, Kirt put Liberty’s front boots back on, I put her s-hack on, and we walked over to the vet area. One more trot-out , and the vets concurred with their earlier assessment – subtle, but “something” off on the right hind, enough that they didn’t feel comfortable letting us go out for that second, very rocky and technical, loop.
And just like that, I got my first actual vet pull at an endurance ride. (Overtime or rider option in the past.)
Gina and Yankee went back out for the second loop (she apologized for leaving me, I told her don’t even think about not going back out there) and Liberty and I headed back to the trailer. Liberty was a little confused, and she hollered a few times for Yankee, but she was very well-behaved – no pacing, twirling, fidgeting, or pawing. I gave her a pellet mash and a hay bag, and let her munch while I untacked her and set to work giving her a sponge bath. (Yay, desert in January and a high of 70* means you get the sponge off the sweaty, dirty, endurance horse.)
Gina and Yankee made it back in from their second loop in time (with about a minute to spare…) and passed the vet check with flying colors. We got him all taken care of and cleaned up, then the horses got to go back over to their corrals and relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Bumble Bee Ranch is such a nice place to relax and hang out that we had decided ahead of time to stay over Saturday night, and maybe ride again Sunday morning. Obviously, I wasn’t going to ride Liberty the day after a lameness pull…however, we did turn them out in the big arena and they proceeded to run around like lunatics…and Liberty was 100% sound.
Oh, well…at least whatever the vets saw turned out to be minor.
So Sunday morning turned into some nice relaxation and quiet time, basking in the sunshine and 60-something-degree weather, before eventually packing up camp, loading the horses, and heading for our respective homes.
The pups were ecstatic to see me (you’d think they’d been neglected all weekend long…never mind that my parents absolutely dote on them), stuff got flung from the car back to where it (mostly) belongs, stinky laundry sorted, and sore muscles got treated to a hot shower.
So: obviously, a somewhat disappointing weekend what with getting pulled/thinking I broke the horse. I probably didn’t, but I’m part Russian: I’m honor-bound to feel guilty. However, there were also some really good moments, like: realizing how much Liberty has matured mentally in two years, and what an absolute rockstar she was; her little happy feet crowhopping moments don’t scare me, and I can ride them out instead of turning into a helpless, clinging, limpet-monkey; I got to spend time with her and discover she has quite the personality on her – very affectionate, has a major sense of humor, and is even downright silly at times, especially for a mare.
Hoping I get to do another upcoming ride with her, but as always, I’m pretty much playing my schedule by ear and seeing what happens…
Up next: The analysis of what worked/what didn’t/gear.