At the last Arizona Endurance Riders Club learning event, the topic of discussion was on goal-setting within endurance. One of the beautiful things about this sport is how varied and encompassing those goals can be. Whether it’s starting out and having a goal of getting to and finishing your first ride, or setting your sights on Top Tenning at Tevis and showing for the Haggin Cup, and everything in between those two points…endurance seems to be able to accommodate a wide range.
It’s no secret that I have always dreamed big when it comes to this sport. I set my sights high, am willing to take risks and chances, and don’t always wait for the stars to be in 100% alignment before trying something…but that also means I’ve frequently fallen short of hitting those goals. And at least as of yet, it still hasn’t stopped me from dreaming and setting more goals.
If nothing else, this sport will teach resilience, and make you dig deep to hold on to your inner grit and determination. It teaches you how to re-frame disappointment and perceived failure.
“Complications arose, ensued, were overcome.”Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Yeah, I know. Not your typical intellectual philosopher source…but highly accurate. A lot of the “adapt and roll with it, sometimes in the most ridiculous manner possible” attitude (and maybe a shot of rum) will go a long way.
And like I mentioned above, I set my sights high. I’ve got some goals that are much more immediately reachable, and others that are more of a nebulous, “work towards it in the future” type. But having some sort of goal is the first step…don’t know how to get there if you don’t know where “there” is. Once you know what you want, then you can figure out what it’s going to take to get to that point.
So, to that end…what are my goals? I figure I may as well share, as a way to hold myself accountable, and maybe to demonstrate that it’s okay to dream big, because you never know what might happen.
- The most immediate goal right now is to make sure I’ve got Liberty’s soundness sorted out. I pulled our entry to the Flagstaff Cinders ride at the end of May at the last second when she still wasn’t looking 100% the Thursday before the ride. A lameness workup revealed a bit of arthritis in her pasterns, but second opinions have also looked at them and had the reaction of, “What am I looking at?” She is also growing out some gnarly stress rings on her hooves, concurrent to the timing of her spring vaccines, and has some fairly deep central sulcus cracks in her frogs, suggesting that she might be brewing some deep-seated thrush…both of which equal “sore feet.” After going down multiple rabbit trails, I keep circling back to that, as well as the adage of “no hoof, no horse.” Guess there really is a reason that came about. The good news is, I am well-versed in knowing how to deal with hoof stuff. To that end, I’ve been doing thrush treatments, as well as backing off on my usual slightly over-zealous trimming and giving her a little more hoof right now for support while those stress rings grow out.
- I’ll be using this summer to really get her fitness and conditioning dialed in, and if I’m feeling like she’s “all systems go,” then our next stop will be aiming for the Grand Canyon XP ride at the end of August/beginning of September.
- Obviously, a lot of my specific goals will hinge on having a horse that is sound and functional and able to compete. But trying to stay positive and operating on the belief that will be the case, there are certain things I would really like to achieve with Liberty in the fairly near future.
- Let’s start with getting that actual 50-mile completion. (Third time’s a charm?)
- Reach 1000 AERC endurance miles
- Multi-day finish
- A 50-mile finish/buckle at Man Against Horse
- A 100-mile finish. Any 100 to start with. (I specifically need a 100-mile finish to qualify for one of my other goals)
- Tevis finish
- Virginia City 100 finish
- Finish all of the “big buckle” 100s… Tevis, Virginia City, Big Horn, Old Dominion, AERC Natl Championships
- Work up to riding competitively (There. I said it. I have an end goal in this sport of not just finishing rides, but to have the right horse and the endurance know-how to be able to have Top Ten finishes be a comfortably attainable thing.)
- Which leads to being able to stand for Best Condition regularly. (One of the greatest thrills in my [limited] endurance career was showing for Best Condition at Bumble Bee with Flash. Although we missed BC by a few [weight] points, he did have High Vet Score, which just felt so good.)
- And because my stateside goals aren’t enough…I so badly want to go back to Australia. Our family trip down there (back in 2004) netted a fabulous several days of “beach and bush” riding on seasoned endurance horses. There was initially some talking of doing an actual ride, but the way the timing happened, that didn’t end up working out, but it was still an amazing experience and one of the most fantastic adventures I’ve ever had. So I would love to do an actual Aussie endurance ride. More specifically, I really want to ride in the Tom Quilty (their Tevis equivalent). (This is the reason I need a 100-mile finish, because you have to have finished a 160k/100-miler as a qualifier before you can enter.)
- I am also fascinated by their Shazada ride, which is a 5-day “marathon” ride of 80km (50 miles)/day — unlike our multi-days, where each day is a standalone ride, this ride is cumulative…you have to finish every day in order to complete, and if at any point along the way you get pulled, you’re done for the remainder. (I don’t know if I’m tough enough to pull this one off. To date, I’ve preferred 75s/100s to back-to-back 50s. But I’m intrigued enough to want to try, and in that regard, not afraid of a challenge.)
Honestly? I know some of this stuff is a reach right now. But as far I as know, no one has chiseled into stone, “You can’t be successful in endurance.” Some people reading this may be raising this eyebrows — myself included. I am probably my biggest doubter and limiter, because after a while, the failures start to take a toll. They breed little doubt-demons in the corners of your mind that pop up at inopportune moments, and make you question your knowledge and competence, and make you start feeling very down about the whole thing.
To counter that, thought, I’ve often joked that my spirit animal is the Whack-A-Mole. Because despite the failures and setbacks, the doubts, the school of hard knocks…I just keep coming back for more. The shelf that I put my audacious dreams on is a low one, always within easy reach and never far out of sight.
Last year’s Virtual Tevis was the first “event” Liberty and I did together as a “re-started” team. It was a good way to get those early conditioning miles on her, and motivation to get out and ride when I didn’t have any immediate ride plans on the horizon. My completion awards for it arrived last week…hot on the heels on me starting to make some whispered murmurs and contemplation about if Liberty just might be a Tevis horse.
I know. At this point…crazy. It’s been an inauspicious start this spring — this is the “on the job learning” that sometimes accompanies endurance, and sorting out the management needs of a new horse. But I also know the more I’m putting into her, the more I’m seeing a side and depth to her that I had no idea existed. She’s already shown me she had a lot of heart. But as her fitness levels are increasing, she’s also showing me she has a lot of go and enthusiasm.
As I wrote on Facebook last weekend, “she’s the kind of horse who makes the training and conditioning fun.” I know what it’s like to have the ones who don’t like conditioning rides. Or they’re a lot of fun at competitions, but in-between, conditioning rides can be anything but. That’s not the case with her. I have the same horse at home as I do at rides. (Well, she’s quite a bit more on the muscle for the first 5-10 miles at rides, but aside from that…) She doesn’t protest when the trail turns away from the trailer, or when I suggest that we add a few more miles and take a more circuitous route back. She tackles the trail with cheer and enthusiasm whether we are headed out or headed back to the trailer. She’s at the point now where I can tell she genuinely seems to enjoy being out there and really likes her job.
Additionally, she is taking the summer heat totally in stride. She adores single-track trail — there’s nothing like it to get her focused, and she is so athletic and agile, she goes zipping right through twists and turns and switchbacks. Mentally, nothing seems to faze her. Bikes, other trail traffic…she seems to love it. She busier the trail, the happier she is. She loves an audience, but she also doesn’t seem to mind being the only horse out in the desert all by ourselves. She’s got the EDPP part of endurance down to a science and has right from the get-go (this is the horse who started drinking 3 miles into the first ride I did with her). She is safe, has great trail sense (slows down and thinks versus barging through technical stuff), and doesn’t do anything stupid. I feel so safe and comfortable and confident on her.
In short, all those boxes they say a good Tevis horse should check? She checks. We just have to make sure we’ve got the physical end of things sorted out, and provided we do…I’ve got Tevis 2022 in my sights. Maybe it’s a bit audacious at this point, but I’ve got to have goals that keep me moving forward, and crawling out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to beat the worst of the heat in the summer. And mentally, I feel like I’m making this goal from a good place in the sense that it’s not an end-all, be-all, only-thing-that-matters sort of goal. It’s a really fun, ambitious goal to aim for…but I’m really excited about the journey along the way, the challenge to see if we can get to that point or not, and to enjoy the process. It’s not like she’s a green 5 year old who is not “life-hardened” at all…she’ll be 15 this upcoming weekend, and I recognize I have a more limited time frame in which to work with her than I would a youngster. Physically, she has maturity on her side, and has done some sort of work (albeit low-level) for most of her life.
So, we’ll see. It’s ambitious and audacious and eyebrow-raise worthy at this point, but if nothing else, putting these thoughts out there at least makes me hold myself accountable along the way.