New Years Between the Ears

My favorite New Year’s Day tradition is to welcome the new year with my butt in the saddle, taking in a scenic view between the ears of a good horse. There’s an adage out there that I adhere to: “Whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll spend the rest of the year doing.”

It hasn’t always worked, but I hedge my bets and try to spend New Year’s Day on horseback anyway.

Yesterday, Liberty and I met up with my friend Lancette and her mare Mesa to give the mares a good workout. We’ve been doing quite a bit of training together, as the two mares pace well together, enjoy each other’s company, and don’t negatively feed off each other. They’re also at similar levels of conditioning and legging up fitness right now, so it ends up being a pretty ideal riding buddy scenario.

I’ve been doing a lot of my riding out of Prospector Park lately, using the trails for the Tonto Twist ride. It’s one of the less-busy options for riding right now (the regional parks have all gotten insanely busy, with a lot of people who don’t have a clue about trail etiquette), and while I know Liberty is okay with…well, pretty much everything out there…it makes it hard to settle into a consistent pace and rhythm. And I hit the trails with my horse to get away from people and crowds and get some peace and quiet.

Out at Prospector, it’s usually quiet, and although there’s a portion of the trails that are open for off-road use, at least you can hear those coming. There’s also a ton of different trail options out there, many of which I need to spend more time exploring other than just the ride trails.

Loop One, in reverse — on Tonto Twist ride day, you go up this climb

On ride day, Loop One is a 30-mile trek, and riding it ahead of time takes some planning, with staging water and hay at an accessible halfway point ahead of time, so normally, it’s not commonly used in the training repertoire. But we decided to do part of the trail and run it as an out and back, which mean getting to see some really beautiful parts of the trail, and enjoying them at a slightly more laid-back pace than the supercharged ride day energy I’ve normally experienced through that particular route, although I didn’t get pictures down in the canyon…too busy riding, watching the trail, and talking.

Lancette and I are also two of the founding members of the AZ Endurance Riders Club, and she’s been the one to spearhead the whole endeavor, so any time we get together, there’s always talk of ideas of the club, hashing out details, setting future plans into motion…I’m super-excited for some of what will be coming up this year, including one of my own pet projects I’m hoping to launch.

One of the interesting aspect of winter in Phoenix — the inversion layer. Cold enough at night and warm enough in the day, and surrounded by mountains, it ends up trapping a lot of particulate matter down in the valley. We were high enough at the particular point to see exactly where the inversion layer starts. This is both fascination, from a visual aspect, and disgusting, because “Gee, I wonder why I have allergies?”

Our ride ended up being about 16 miles overall , and I was so proud of Libby. She hasn’t been out since Jingle Bell trot (a month ago) and she was a little tense for the first quarter mile or so, and then settled right in as through she had just been out the previous day. I seriously love this mare’s brain so much, and I have a hard time fully articulating everything I feel about her.

She was definitely the best part of 2020, and she is everything I need in a horse right now. She challenges me — not in a “problem horse who needs fixing” type of way, but the positive, “I want to better myself as a horsewoman to be able to best communicate with her” kind of way. She’s bold and she’s solid, but she’s also very connected to her rider, and the more confident I am and the more I trust her, the more she shines. She’s bailed my anxious, nervous butt out on previous occasions, in terms of not taking advantage of me or melting down herself, but she really, really wants her rider to be her partner, and when I am focused and “forward thinking” myself, she gives her 100%. (It’s happened enough times now that I’ve picked up on a pattern — if I’m not engaged, or just “along for the ride,” that’s when she will start peeking at things or tossing in little shies at rocks, dead cactus, etc…her way of saying, “hey, up there, we’re in this together, be with me.” But I connect with her and can communicate with her in a way I don’t think I’ve experienced with another horse before.

While I have some lofty goals for her that I truly hope we can achieve, what she’s offering me in terms of learning and growing as a horsewoman is far deeper-reaching and long-term, and for that alone, she is a truly amazing addition to have in my life.

Post-ride photo outtakes. The grey is Lancette’s mare Mesa. We were attempting to get a pretty, posed, “dark horse with light tack, and light horse with dark tack” contrast picture, but none of the subjects were cooperating. Myself included, apparently. We finished up the last stretch back to the trailers in a side-by-side “trotting race,” and I was still all giddy and giggly from how much fun that had been. It’s been far too long since I’ve had so much fun riding a horse.

2 thoughts on “New Years Between the Ears

  1. Happy new year and what a great start to 2021. Beautiful views, though I had no idea the inversion layer was a thing. Your clear joy in your words and in that last photo makes my heart happy. Happy trails, friend!

    • Happy trails and happy new year to you, my friend! (I think the inversion layer is the trade-off for the nice winter weather…it’s common although it was really bad on Friday…I suspect some of it might have been residual smoke from all the fireworks that a zillion people were insistent on setting off Thursday night.)

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