Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50

So, Man Against Horse happened back in early October…but things definitely didn’t go according to plan, so I’ve had a hard time mustering up the enthusiasm to write about it. Get through all 50 really hard miles…only to get pulled at the finish. I have to say, of all of the pulls I’ve had, this one probably sucks the most.

Short story: Beeba was off at the finish. The vet couldn’t even definitely pick a leg, just that she was “mild but consistently off.” And apparently she looked totally fine in her pasture once she got home later that evening. :/

I’m trying not to let the finish line pull completely cloud the good aspects of the weekend: riding and camping with good friends, some really good learning moments with pacing and smart trail strategy, the gorgeous fall colors on Mingus Mountain, the stunning scenery , and an overall fun time in the saddle.

But still, it stings. For whatever reason, I can feel good about the pull at Virginia City — we tried something hard, got the furthest we’ve ever been, and had a really good experience. This one? There are no good feelings about it. I’ve finished the ride before, she’s finished the ride before. It’s depressing and I’m bummed out about it. Also, to finish all the miles…but to ultimately have it not count for anything? Feels like a double insult.

Plus, a lameness pull makes me second-guess myself. What did I do wrong? Should I have slowed down even more? Done even more than I did on foot? Was it too soon after Virginia City? Should I have even started the ride? Y’know, all the shoulda-could-woulda armchair quarterbacking after the fact. Even a month later, I don’t know what I could have done differently, other than not ride.

It sucks, but we’ve concluded (based on not just these last two rides, but her entire ride history, which has been seriously up and down) that her forte is probably more as a LD/competitive trail horse rather than a 50+ miler. I’m bummed, because I really enjoyed riding her, and I let myself get way too excited and start thinking way too optimistically/far ahead with planning and future scheming.

Anyway, moving on to the ride itself. It basically took a village to make it happen. Kim wasn’t going to be able to ride, but I could still take Beeba, and she would come up and crew. I was able to find a ride for Beeba with a friend…but Barb was going to be working until late Friday afternoon and wasn’t sure when she would actually get to camp. So a convoluted plan was hatched, and despite the fact I felt like a flowchart was needed at times, it all ended up working out really smoothly.

  • Step One: Since Barb is about an hour away from me, and needed to leave for work early Friday morning, the plan was: drive my truck to Barb’s house Thurs night. Put all my ride stuff/food in her trailer, stay at her house overnight.
  • Step Two: Barb takes my truck to work. I load up Barb’s horse and drive her rig to Kim’s. Pick up Beeba. Kim follows in her car and we drive to the ride. Get camp set up and both horses vetted.
  • Step Three: Barb leaves from work Friday afternoon in my truck and drives straight to the ride.
  • Step Four: After the ride, all the stuff gets sorted into our respective vehicles, Barb drops Beeba back off at Kim’s, I drive straight home.

Endurance. It takes a village.

Ok, so we established that I drove the horses up to the ride on Friday. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with rig driving this year, and feel like I’ve earned at least fledgling membership into the “endurance girls who can drive anything” club.

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Piggies!! Javelina (collared peccary) family crossing the “road” into base camp. (Fun fact: Only very vaguely related to pigs.)

Base camp is a big open cow pasture on the Fain Ranch just outside of Prescott — open parking among the rocks and random clumps of cactus. A spot that was free of rocks was cleared, horses got settled, then I spent a couple hours puttering around and socializing before rider check in and then going to vet in.

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This is kind of fun, because I have virtually no photos of me vetting in at endurance rides. My showmanship and halter upbringing is showing through. (photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

After vetting in, I did a really short pre-ride with Beeba — meandered through camp, socialized along the way. Tried to head out along the finish trail, ended up feeling like I had a red-hot powder-keg under me. Errr, that would be a big old “nope” on that idea, so we walked politely(ish) back to the trailer red mare then got to trot schooling circles until she settled.

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pre-ride, acting fairly calm and innocent

One of the things I miss the most about riding Mimi in competition is her complete lack of explosiveness. She would spook at something, and be done. Interestingly enough, she had that “up” side that tended to appear at shows, especially large ones in new venues. But at distance rides? Never. Plenty of energy, and plenty of wanting to go forward, but I was never concerned about her bucking, rearing, spazzing and dumping me, or other variations of untoward behavior.

Friday evening, a couple dozen of us gathered for one of the “Zonie potlucks.” I’m skeptical of potlucks because so often it turns into everybody bringing a bag of chips or box of cookies and calling it good. Well, Zonies apparently love their food, because there was a glorious spread of main dishes, side dishes, and delicious homemade desserts. Yum. My contribution was a Mexican Street Corn salad, which seemed like a big hit since I only brought home a small amount of leftovers.

Ride briefing went by really quick — it seems like nothing had changed since the last time I had done the ride (2009). I should also add that this is my “anniversary” ride — it was Mimi’s and my first AERC ride back in 2005. We did the LD, and finished, and I’ve been hooked on this sport (despite questioning my sanity sometimes) ever since. 12 years in endurance…but that’s musings for another time and post.

Barb and I took the horses for a final walk around camp to stretch their legs, then retreated back to the warmth of the trailer. I was in bed at a decent time, and the 6:30 ride start meant the alarm was set for early, but not unreasonable.

Ride start nerves were out in full force again Saturday morning, albeit not as bad as at Virginia City. Barb and I waited back at the trailer until the pack cleared out (To recap: it’s an uncontrolled, “shotgun” start [at least they don’t actually fire a gun anymore] that drops through a rocky wash, then opens up through an open field. And you sort of just roughly follow along what used to be an old two-track road but has gotten fairly overgrown. Not a conducive environment for two horses who are not known for having the best start line behavior.

So we waited until a couple minutes after the start, hand-walked over to the start, mounted up, and headed straight out. Since the pack was pretty much out of sight, we were able to pick up a polite trot right away, and that was that. Beeba was settled within the first couple of miles, and she was perfectly happy to trot along behind Barb’s horse K-Man.

We kept it to a nice trot through the sand wash that is basically the first 5 miles of the trail — each year, it gets a little bit shallower and more trottable. By the time we headed out of the wash, we had caught up to the tail-end of the pack, and just kept steadily trotting along, catching and passing people.

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About 7 miles in, through the “rolling plains” section.

About 9 miles in, the trail hits one of my favorite sections: “the grapevine.” It’s roughly 7 miles up to the first vet check, and most of it is winding up through a canyon, twisting and turning in and out along a dry streambed, and then climbing up through manzanita bushes. So pretty, and so fun, especially on a athletic, agile horse.

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psychedelic endurance?

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out of the canyon and up into the manzanita. view is looking towards Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.

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in the manzanita tunnel, only a few miles out from the first vet check

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at the top of the climb, only about a mile from the check. (photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

The approach into vet check 1, Mingus Springs Camp at mile 16, is about perfect. A downhill onto a two-track road, with lots of space to jump off and lead in.

By the time we walked to the troughs and Beeba drank, she was pulsed down — to 52. Vetted through, and then she set to work remedying those B’s on the gut sounds. In the course of about 20 minutes, she managed to stuff in a whole pan of mash, some hay, and start eyeballing some of the other horses’ mashes.

It was bit of a novelty to have a crew there, and to be able to hand the horse off to Kim and sit quietly and work through my own food cooler. Turkey lunch meat, cheese stick, and pasta salad all disappeared quickly, and then it was time to put the bridle back on, tighten the girth, and mount up, right on our out time.

I had kind of forgotten about parts of the next section — it involves quite a bit of forest road, combined with some sketchier “trails” to get from one road to another. And a lot of rocks. SO many rocks. After VC and this ride, I may have threatened that I didn’t want to see anything but a groomed sand arena for the next several months.

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oh look, more rocks

Parts of this section are really pretty, because it’s at a high enough elevation that there are lots of trees around, and some pleasant shady areas. And once you’re on the roads, there is plenty of area to move out…in between the rocky areas.

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on the long road around Mingus Mountain

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scenic overlook: looking down into the Verde Valley, and to the red rocks of Sedona in the distance

The scenery through this section is amazing, though. It overlooks the whole Verde Valley, and out into the red rocks of Sedona. It’s stunning, and photos barely begin to capture the colors, let alone the feeling of that immense of a view. Just one of the reasons I love this state.

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rode for a while with Cristina and Atti through this section

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flying

The ride was perfectly timed to catch the changing of the leaves as well. Sometimes when it’s within the first day or two of October, the leaves have barely started changing, but the ride date ended up falling on the 7th this year, and that was late enough to start really seeing the leaves.

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who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons?

Contrary to popular myth, parts of the state actually do have four seasons. The Valley just isn’t one of those parts. But anything that’s higher elevation definitely does.

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water and snack break before the real climbing begins

To get to vet check 2, at the top of Mingus Mountain, there’s a 3-mile climb with an almost-2000′ elevation gain, with some parts through some technical single-track (read: stepping up through/over rocks and boulder on an uphill). It’s hard. It ate our lunches the first time we did this 50, and I hopped off and led Mimi through it the second time around.

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taking a quick breather in the shade

This time, I stayed mounted, but that was a climb that definitely took the wind out of their sails. Beeba was tired, and K-Man experienced his first “I think I met Jesus” moment there on the mountain when he slowed his relentless forward movement and voluntarily stopped to eat. Ah, nothing like a hard ride to teach them how to take care of themselves.

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steep, rocky climb

I honestly don’t remember the climb being that hard, especially the second half. Either I blocked it from my memory…or I never realized just how much of an amazing hill pony Mimi is.

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more climb

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postcards from Arizona

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those radio towers are where we are going

We finally, finally reached the top…there was a checkpoint and water there, and the horses really tanked up. We only stayed there for a couple of minutes, wanting them to keep moving rather than stand around and cramp up. It was a mile of easy service road into the check, and we moseyed, alternating walking and trotting, right into the vet check.

Beeba’s pulse down down, and she vetted through well — one standalone ‘B’ for impulsion, A’s on everything else. Kim had a nice spread set out — sun for the horses, shade for the riders — and we each set to work on our respective food offerings. About 15 minutes into the check, Beeba started shaking, and looked really stiff when Kim walked her. We threw another fleece on her, gave her extra electrolytes, and Kim alternated walking her and letting her graze. Apparently she did the same thing at the check last year with Kim — we weren’t sure if she was tying up, or just cold, because she’s very cold-sensitive, or the post-climb exertion.

Needless to say, that put a major damper on my mood, as I went from “feeling good” to “gut knotted with anxiety.” Kim took Beeba over to the vet and got the “all clear” — her muscles were good, all other parameters were good, pulse was low — so probably just cold/exertion. I was worried about taking her back out, but between the vet’s okay, Kim’s okay, the fact she had done the same thing last year, a decision to really take it slow on the last third, plus me getting off and running, we headed back out again.

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after vet check 2. cross training? (Photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

It’s pretty much “all downhill from here” after vet check 2, and I ended up hopping off and hiking/running any of the longer stretches of downhill. I could not believe how rocky and washed out this section has gotten. This was my absolute favorite part of the trail previously, because it was this smooth, flowing, slightly downhill single track that Mimi just flew down. Now, it was rutted, rocky, and a stumbling walk was the best gait we could hope for in many parts.

Right before we hit vet check three (a pulse/vet/go) I could feel Beeba take some funky steps when we were trotting along the forest road. Nothing I could pinpoint, but felt like there was a bit of a hitch somewhere in her gait. When we got to the check, we took a couple minutes to drink and pulse, then went over to vet. I had to trot her a couple times and the vet said she maybe saw “something” but just take it easy on the way back — which was literally all downhill at this point.

So we hiked out of the check, hit the section of switchbacks down Yaeger Canyon, and hiked and jogged the next several miles down the switchbacks. At the bottom of the canyon (and the last few miles into canyon) I hopped back on, but couldn’t really tell if it had made any difference or not. There was no definitive lameness, but she just didn’t feel 100%.

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Yaeger Canyon on foot

So we moseyed and took it fairly easy back into camp. Shoutout to Barb for being a real awesome riding partner and not ditching me. She certainly could have — K-Man was strong and had plenty of gas in the tank. But I really appreciated her sticking with me to the end.

Coming in to the finish, I was feeling a little hopeful — Beeba wasn’t 100%, but she wasn’t any worse. So maybe we would be okay?

Yeah, not so much. We vetted through right away, but after trotting back and forth a couple times, even yanking the tack and pulling her boots to check for any dirt/stones (nothing), it still wasn’t good enough to pass the vet’s scrutiny. They couldn’t even pinpoint a specific leg, just that she was “off.”

And that’s how I got my first finish line pull.

Barb and K-Man finished, and looked great.

Since it’s a close-by ride, we packed up camp, horses got their legs wrapped and a couple hours of recovery time, then we all hit the road. Beeba came out of the trailer sound back home and moseyed around her turnout looking none the worse for the wear.

Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan, and it kind of put a crimp in future plans. At this point, we’re operating on the theory that Beeba is probably a better LD/competitive trail horse than an endurance horse. These are not her first pulls, and it’s not fair to her, or whoever is riding her, to keep trying to pursue something that she’s probably not optimal for. It’s hard, because I really enjoyed riding her and spending time with her, and if she was my horse and the only option I had to ride (like it was with Mimi), I would probably spend the time and $ seeing if I could make things work. But reality is, she’s not mine, so it’s not my call, and I’m not going to put money into a horse that isn’t mine.

This has certainly been an interesting ride season, that’s for sure. And I say that with the full intent of “interesting” being used in the context of a curse versus a compliment.

5 thoughts on “Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50

  1. That is SUCH a hard pull. But I guess in the grand scheme of pulls, you can look at it as a “got it out of the way” kind of thing? When I got my finishline pull due to Q’s crampy butt at Fort Valley years ago, it killed me. I second-guessed and beat myself up for a good while and even had a really good cry in my car all alone afterward. Later that evening – or maybe the following day? – someone gifted me with the following words that helped to make a huge difference, “Your horse doesn’t know she didn’t finish the race and get a completion. For all she knows, she did the job and did it well. She finished the miles and you were happy with her and that’s all that really matters.” I’ve kept those words in mind for myself and my horses in all endeavors ever since.

    I LOVE the landscape in all of these photos. Desert and forest. It looks like a magical blend of desert biome with my more familiar east coast biome!

  2. Ugh. Getting pulled at the finish is the absolute worst… especially the first time it happens. Extra especially after a tough ride. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t get your completion after all that, but try not to second guess yourself too much. It’s bound to happen sooner or later, and it doesn’t sound like you could have done anything better or differently. Gorgeous views along the way. Thanks for taking the time to take pictures and share them with the rest of us :)

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