Most of my year revolved around my ride season, so it makes sense to combine the two this year. The AERC ride season actually runs from Dec 1-Nov 30, versus strictly following the calendar year…and the winter is actually our prime ride season here in AZ, so it’s a little bit of a jumble to keep track of what is when.
This ended up being the best ride season I’ve ever had. The most rides attended, the most rides finished, the most rides ever done on my own horse, the most miles done in a season, and the most successful season ever…to the point of ending up in the regional points standings for both my weight division and overall. What we accomplished this year was beyond my wildest goals. I set out to steadily tick off the miles and lay a solid foundation for Liberty. It was her second full year of competition, and I wanted to be able to take advantage of the large number of rides we have on the calendar in AZ — nice to be able to get some miles in without needing to travel far or go out of state.
I’m grateful to have such a good riding season…this is my escape and sanity-keeper when so much else in the world is going badly, and completely out of my control, and a counter-balance to the negative things that have happened. I’m a much more pleasant person to be around when I’ve had sufficient saddle time.
I think August was the only month that I didn’t end up doing anything ride-related. Every other other, I either went to a ride, or if not a ride, at least did an overnight camping trip. I’m still missing a couple of my ride stories from earlier in the year that I’ve not gotten around to writing (Bumble Bee and Cinders Trot), and most of my conditioning rides end up getting talked about quickly on social media versus making it to the blog…but I did manage to keep my “at least one post a month” streak going (11 years and counting…).
Final ride season statistics:
- 8/9 rides completed
- 425 miles
- 7/7 50s
- 1/2 75s
- 1 Best Condition
- 6 Top Tens
- Southwest Region Points: 1st Lightweight, 7th Overall
There’s also been quite a lot happening with the AZERC (Arizona Endurance Riders Club) — I am on the board of directors, and handle our website, social media, and most of our communications…in addition to occasionally giving some of the “learning event” presentations. We try to do something almost every month, so that’s also kept me really busy and involved with the actual events, plus all the in-between communications and club board meetings. Which is a good thing…I get into trouble when I’m not busy enough, and start doing things like even more tack shopping than I already do..
We kicked off the season with the Jingle Bell Trot ride at Estrella Mountain Park in Goodyear, just west of Phoenix. We rode with our friends MJ and Dreamer, and it was a bit of an inauspicious day that saw both MJ and I hit the dirt, Liberty tried for a near-epic catch-a-toe faceplant only a few miles away from the finish, and rocks that were pretty much breeding before our eyes on certain portions of the trail. I was nervous going into this ride — would our 50-mile finish the previous month at McDowell be a fluke? Would she be able to withstand the rocky footing and increased difficulty level of this ride? A solid 6th place finish, and compliment from the vet of how hard we’ve worked and how far we’ve come put pay to my worries, and I started to look forward to the season ahead.
A hard month, and the worst way to start off the New Year. My grandfather passed away (at 97 years old, you celebrate their life and cherish the memories, but it’s still a loss, and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, especially in my younger years, and I was particularly close to my grandfather) and then immediately after, I very unexpectedly lost my beloved Artemis. Almost a year later, and my heart still feels shredded, and there’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t think about her and miss her.
Before all of this happened, though, I had a lovely ride at the Tonto Twist 50. (And I’m glad I got the chance to take Artemis to one last ride, although I didn’t know it at the time.) This would be my first time sponsoring a junior rider — my longtime friend Lancette is the ride manager for Tonto Twist, and since she can’t ride and manage her ride at the same time, she had asked me if I would be willing to sponsor her granddaughter Hailey. It was Hailey’s last season as a junior rider, and Lancette really wanted her to have a good season. I was happy to do so — a nice way to roundabout return the favor of Lancette being one of my early mentors int he sport — and we had a lovely ride. It was a little chilly and super-windy all day long, but the horses were solid rockstars, and I learned just how much fun it is to ride with a junior, especially one who is always cheerful, positive, and endlessly tough.
On the heels of January’s losses came the AZERC first annual awards celebration. It was a good distraction to be surrounded by friends, especially when I got last-minute pressed into presenting one of the awards. (For someone who used to be fearless and have no hesitation about getting up in front of people, thanks to years of drama/theater classes in school, I’ve gotten really out of the habit of it and had developed a bit of an aversion and bad case of nerves for doing so…but the club activities and presenting some of the learning events is going a good job of getting me past that again.) It was a fun evening, and really nice to celebrate the accomplishments of the riders and all the work they put into it…and I left feeling very inspired for the upcoming season.
The Wickenburg Land of the Sun ride rolled around at the end of the month, where I once again sponsored Hailey since Lancette’s horse wasn’t 50-mile ready yet. My head wasn’t in the game and had it just been me, myself, and I, I probably would have “noped” off the whole weekend…but the commitment i had made to sponsor Hailey kept me moving forward, and we ended up having another really good day. Hailey did a really good job of leading most of the ride, and we had some hilarious moments of her popping Jantar over dead logs, lots of giggling as we tried to navigate (at speed) some of the twisting single track trails, her delight when I agreed to a good canter up a wash…once again, Hailey’s positive, upbeat attitude kept the whole day really enjoyable for me and helped clear away some of the dark fog. The highlight of the day was trotting into the finish, with the whole management team yelling, “next one across the line is 10th!” and I urged Hailey ahead to finish in front of me, earning her first top ten finish. Now, I’m not one of “give” a junior something just because they’re “a kid.” Finishes and placings mean more if you know you’ve earned it…and in my mind, she had definitely earned it that day. She lead probably 80% of the ride, made super-smart pacing and footing decisions, she takes impeccable care of her horse, does everything for herself…I’m basically there in a “warm body supervisory capacity” of following AERC directives of “riders under 16 need an adult sponsor.” But she’s every bit as capable and competent as the adults I ride with, and it felt really good to be a part of her having the opportunity to prove that. Plus, she’s a lot of fun to ride with, and this wouldn’t be our last ride together this year…
For the first time in 10 years, I opted out of attending the AERC Convention. My heart and head were still reeling from the earlier losses, and I was not in the mood to put on a happy face and be my “socially acceptable” best that I need to be when I’m doing trade show work. I was kind of sad to miss it because it was AERC’s 50th Anniversary, but I really felt like I needed a break.
On the ride front, Old Pueblo was the middle of the month, and I had a vague plan in mind to try back-to-back 50s. I would ride day 1 with MJ and Dreamer, and then if all went well, day 2 with Hailey and Jantar. Things…did not go to plan. Day 1 was very…interesting. Fortunately the weather cooperated this year and we did not experience Snowmaggedon. In fact, it was downright pleasant by Sonoita standards, apart from the ever-present wind, which I’m pretty sure never actually stops blowing down there. Dreamer decided that he was Not. Going. To. Lead. on this day, which meant Libby and I lead the entire ride…which would have been fine if she hadn’t been so inordinately spooky from about mile 8 onwards. Compounded by the fact I had done some work-related experiments with testing a new adhesive for glue-on boots, and it wasn’t going well. By the time we hit our last vet hold, I had lost all my glue-ons, was exhausted from the unpredictable spooking, and when a friend asked me how it was going, I literally burst into tears. Huh. Being reduced to tears in the middle of a ride hasn’t happened for a while. I think I was also riding the ragged edge of very frayed emotions still, so it didn’t take much to push me over. But we persevered through the last loop to a 5th place finish, even if I resorted to hanging onto my saddle pommel and thumping Libby on the sides every time she spooked. But by the end of the ride, I was done, and not up for another round of shenanigans on day 2. Furthermore, Libby has some sort of scratch right by her elbow in front of the girth, probably obtained from when we had to bushwhack through some dry, dead weeds, since it didn’t look like an actual girth gall…and it was quite tender, so the vet at the finish had advised we “consider sitting out” day 2. And Lancette had some concerns about Jantar going out for a 2nd day as well, so in the end, it all worked out for all parties involved.
March was the “launch month” for the new club website and platform using a program called ClubExpress which is designed to facilitate easy communication and coordination among members of a group/organization. It’s been a learning curve of figuring it out and how to optimize its use, but I’m getting there, and overall, it seems to be straightforward enough for the end-user club members to interact with it, and it’s made things like automated renewals, online membership signup, event signups, and mass email communication way easier.
I haven’t gotten around to
finishing writing my ride story from Bumble Bee…and I don’t know why, other than I got really busy, because it was a good ride. Historically, this has been a terrible ride for us, being 0/3 at finishing it going in…but Liberty really loves this ride. She loves the Black Canyon Trail portion, and this year, we finally had ourselves sorted out enough to make a good showing and cast off our previous pull-gremlins. We rode most of the ride along, leapfrogging with some friends for several miles in the morning before we got on the BCT and Libby’s love of motoring through single-track soon had us in our own space bubble for almost all of the rest of the ride. We were caught by, and the subsequently rode the last several miles with, Susie and Brad, who were sponsoring junior Hailey riding one of their horses. We’d been doing quite a bit of conditioning with them, and Libby knows their horses, so it was really fun sharing the trail together and coming in together at the finish. The last few miles of the trail have a lot of long, fairly level stretches, so having company really makes the time and miles go by faster. We ended the day with a solid 8th place finish, which was major icing on the cake when my main goal for the weekend had been to finally finish this ride.
This is a bit of a bittersweet ride to reflect back on, given what would happen later in the summer, but it makes me really appreciate being able to share the trail and spend some miles with Susie and Steel. Steel and Liberty had this kind of hilarious relationship where they would give each other snarky looks if they were side-by-side or near each other, but would never act on it, and at the same time, seemed to enjoy each other’s company…at least, I know Libby always seemed to like riding with him and didn’t get crazy-competitive with him. We got to share some really good training miles over the spring and summer leading up to Tevis, and Steel was a very positive influence and inspiration for us.
Cinders Trot was another ride I didn’t get around to writing, but probably because it wasn’t a great ride. We were aiming to do Liberty’s first 75, but right from the get-go Saturday morning, she wasn’t quite right…entirely too calm and not interested in following after all of the faster starters. Weird thing to be concerned about, I know…but I know this horse’s normal, and forward, with a side of “couple miles of pace negotiations” is her normal at a ride start…never crazy or naughty, but very business-like and ready to get on with it, not “halfway through the 2nd loop of a 50” level of chill. And then she wasn’t interested in drinking…not at 8 miles, not at 12 miles, not at 17 miles. I can give her the 8, even 12, but by 17 she should have been tanking up. And partway through the loop, she started slowing down when we would reach sections of cinder footing and start nosing the ground, then pawing. All of this combined, topped by her refusal to drink at the 17-mile trough, had me opting out. Unfortunately, there was not really an easy way out at this point, so I hand-walked her the rest of the way in to camp, with her stopping every few minutes to paw, and she even tried to lay down a couple times. Her pulse was normal, and I could hear gut sounds, but I didn’t know what was going on.
I hand-walked her the 8 miles back to camp, and was met by Dr Anderson just outside of camp — I had called ride management to let them know what was going on, and had sent word ahead with riders who had passed me on the trail — so he was ready and waiting for us, and checking her over immediately. We got her tack stripped off, pulled her boots and leg wraps, and then he gave her a very small amount of painkiller and sedative. His assessment was the same as mine — low heart rate, normal gut sounds, all other parameters were fine. She quieted down almost immediately, so I don’t know if it was the drugs kicking in…or if there was something physically bothering her, and stripping her tack off took care of it. Or both.We kept an eye on her all afternoon, and by mid-afternoon she was back to eating and drinking like crazy and looking like nothing ever happened.
Working theories: The splint boots and ankle wraps I was using were brand new, and I’d never tried them before. (Breaking Cardinal Rule #1: Never try anything new at a ride. Never mind I’ve done this numerous times before, eventually it bites you.) They were a perforated neoprene, and it is possible they were pulling at her hair. Or…she was having a very strong spring heat cycle and basically had cramps. Because that was the vibe she was giving off…like she was throwing a giant temper tantrum because she was uncomfortable. She did something similar the previous spring, but it was at the barn, not at a ride. So that was one ride that was definitely not according to plan, but I came home with a healthy horse, and an interesting learning experience.
But that didn’t deter us for long, and we wrapped up the month with a good training ride at Log Corral with Susie, Brad, and MJ. All three other horses were Tevis-bound, and Libby did a fantastic job holding her own and keeping pace with them through the whole ride. This is a super fun ride, with the bonus of having Bartlett Lake as the turnaround point, so there’s water, some good climbing, and the unique visuals of accessing water in the middle of the desert. It was Libby’s first time at the lake, and she’s not always world’s biggest fan of things like puddles and water crossings, so I was pleasantly surprised when she turned out to be a total seahorse who just wanted to go further and further into the lake.
May is also Mimi’s birthday month — she turned 29 this year! She’s earned the right to be totally retired from toting me around, and we have a little routine that keeps her happy whenever I show up to the barn to take Libby out. I pull up, Mimi (who is in the closest stall to the yard) screams at me when I say hi I her, I hitch up the trailer, then grab Libby’s hay bag and go into the feed rom to fill it. And on my way out of the feed room, I grab a scoop of feed for Mimi and give it to her. So she gets to munch while I load Libby up and leave, and everyone is happy. She gets cookies, cuddles, and hoof trimming from me, and she’s perfectly content and still full of mischief and sparkle.
No planned rides this month, although I got out of town for a quick weekend away in the pines on Susie & Brad’s invite to join them at the cabin in Happy Jack (just south of Flagstaff). Way more excitement than I planned for when my alternator died on the drive up, but the “endurance takes a village” adage got put into play, lots of hoops got jumped through, and ultimately the weekend was salvaged and had a really enjoyable time spent with really good people.
Monsoon season started quite enthusiastically and early this year, which made it easier to ride. More humid, but there were times when the rain dropped the morning temps down to the high 70s. I pulled quite a few 3am wakeups in order to hit the trail before the temps rose to much, but it was worth it, because we came out of the summer with a horse in excellent shape and ready for the fall ride season.
Tevis month. I went there to do Renegade stuff and to crew for Cathy again. This year saw me gluing boots on for other people, which I was really nervous about because this would be my first time doing glue-ons for others at Tevis. Gluing day went well, and none of the boots that I glued on came off. I also had a fun day heading up to visit my friend Elicia (who makes my mohair girths and reins). I met her herd, got to drool over her stockpile of fleece fabrics and mohair fibers, and then we even saddled up and went for a ride out from her property.
This year, I had conscripted both my barn owner and one of my fellow boarders to come up and help crew. Maybe not the best year to bring them on board. This was a hard, hard year. The trail accident that took Susie’s Steel is a tragedy that casts a shadow over the whole thing. It’s sad whenever something like that happens, but you never think it’ll happen to a friend, to someone to know, to a horse you’ve ridden and trained with. As I mentioned earlier…Susie and Steel’s success story has been such an inspiration. She’s not a professional, running a string of horses, or making a full-time profession out of training…but an amazing horse and rider team who proved what can be done with dedication, heart, talent, desire, and drive.
Unfortunately, Cathy’s ride didn’t go according to plan, either. Her riding partner’s horse slipped off the edge of the trail in the dark on the California Loop, and while the horse did survive, it was a long night and into the next morning before he was rescued, and Cathy sacrificed her own ride to stay with her friend. Rough year all around, with a lot of tears and introspection…capped off by the most violently turbulent flight I have ever been on coming home, and a storm in Phoenix so bad we had to divert up to Las Vegas, refuel, and then make our way back to Phoenix.
July is Liberty’s birthday…the big mare turned 16! And it’s also our “gotcha day” month…hard to believe it’s been two years since she came home. I feel like time has flown by…but also that I’ve known her forever. (Well, technically, I have known her for almost a decade now.)
The one month that I didn’t have any competitions, or any out of town trips. After Tevis, I threw myself into conditioning at a level I’ve never managed in the summer. Normally, August is a blah month in which I can easily talk myself out of ever riding, but this year, I don’t know…it was like something in my brain was going, “you never know what’s going to happen, so don’t waste time and opportunities.” I’ve never gone into the fall season with a horse so well-conditioned before.
The previous month, I had gone kayaking for the first time and got rather hooked on it, so August saw me jumping in and getting my own kayak. Turns out Sofie loves it as well, and hitting the water was a nice offset to the summer heat. I also got to present one of the club learning events…the “Tack-n-Pack Talk,” or “useful gear for endurance and what to pack in your saddle pack-crew bag-trailer.” #QueenOfAllTheGear was in her element.
Back on the competition trail! This month brought a brand-new ride, the White Mountain Tango, put on by ride manager extraordinaire Lancette. The ride was up in the White Mountains on the eastern side of the state, between the small mountain towns of Vernon and Pinetop. I spent a lot of time in Pinetop growing up, and was eager to see it in the context of my favorite sport. I also sponsored Hailey again, and she did an amazing job all day, even volunteering to lead a number of times. There was laughter, sinking-into-mud mishaps, and another Top Ten finish for both of us at the end of the day. It was a two-day ride, and once again I went in with plans to do the second day…but while we finished day 1, her movement wasn’t 100% and I didn’t feel like it would be in her best interest to go out a second day.
This was my “goal ride” month. All year, I had been eagerly anticipating tackling the 50-miler at Man Against Horse. This is my “anniversary ride” — the first AERC ride I ever did, the 25-miler in 2005, and it always hold a special place in my heart. The challenge of completing the 50 earns finishers a silver buckle, and my personal goal has been to have a buckle on each of my mares. It ended up probably being our best ride of the whole year. She was so on all day long. We did the whole ride by ourselves, and she so so solid and forward the entire time. By the time we hit the last 7 miles, she was ready to fly, and I had to keep the handbrake on because paranoid-me had taken over and “finish sound” was the main priority (I have been pulled at the finish of this ride before). So I was shocked when we crossed the finish line and the timer announced, “10th!” I had no clue where we sat relative to the rest of the field all day, and this was the icing on the cake, because one of my long-time dreams was to someday Top Ten this ride.
At the end of the month, the club hosted another learning event that we called the “McDowell Prep-alooza.” It was 3 events in one — mini-clinics on body clipping and crewing, and a mini clinic on night riding, followed by a short night ride. The whole idea behind it was offering topics people might find useful for the very last ride of the season — Lead-Follow @ McDowell, which offered a 30, 50, 75, and 100-miler this year. The weather can still be warm, but ponies are fuzzing up, so doing a quick clip on their necks can make a difference in cooling (and since our prime ride season is also during prime “fuzzy horse season,” a lot of people end up doing some degree of clipping at some point over the season). With a 75 and 100 being offered, there was a good chance those longer-distance riders might need or want a crew, so giving folks a heads up about what crewing entails would also be useful. And then for anyone with a goal of someday doing 75s or 100s, night riding is an essential skill.
It was an interesting day…I gave the presentation on body clipping (Liberty was my demo horse and was an absolute angel, despite having never seen my new “proper” clippers before [I finally got a pair of proper, large body clippers, after 26 years of borrowing ones from either trainers or boarding barn owners]), MJ and I tag-teamed for the talk on crewing, then MJ gave a talk on night riding before we all saddled up and broke into small groups for the night ride. Riding Libby at night was an experience. She was super-fit and the 6 mile stretch we had put on earlier in the day did nothing to put even a chip in her fitness level, so she was quite ready to go, especially since we were on her home turf trails (that we had done at speed the previous weekend on a training ride)…and the lights I had hung to mark the trail terrified her. Legit snort-and-tremble reaction. So she alternated jiggling and spooking the last 3 miles of the ride, making me wonder just how the night portion of McDowell was going to go…
Most of the season, I waffled back and forth on whether I should do the 100 or the 75 at McDowell. Part of me really wants to get that 100 checked off and done. But the rational part of my brain recognized that with this mare, less is more, and that every time I’ve gotten ahead of myself (and her), it has backfired, and my gut was telling me that since we’ve not done and back-to-back 50s, or completed a 75, doubling her distance in one go would be a little too much. Maybe we could get it done, but I don’t know if it would be pretty, and I don’t know how much fun we would have. And part of this mare’s success and trail happiness has been keeping it fun, and not overfacing her. To that end, I ultimately decided on the 75, and it was the best decision ever. We went on to have a really good ride day, finishing in 4th place, and the highlight of our season was Liberty being awarded Best Condition.
Which brings us to this month. The start of the next 2023 season. Which we are actually starting off slowly, and opting out of the Jingle Bell Trot ride this upcoming weekend…mostly because Liberty goes really well with sufficient quantities of rest & recovery, and doing that ride, which is rocky and not easy, only 3 weeks after her strong 75 effort would be “too much.” Plus, we are in the middle of sorting some saddle fit issues, and really need to get that resolved before the next competition. So I’m planning to go pull ribbons on Sunday from one of the LD loops, and put some miles on our borrowed Reactor Panel saddle.
Last December, I wrote down some list of goals for the year, so let’s see how that went…
Take more riding lessons.Fail. Conditioning took precedence, and file this away under “things I didn’t get around to doing.”
- Remember that it’s okay to say no. I did pretty good at setting boundaries and structuring my priorities, and I never felt like I hit burnout levels.
Finish my Masterson certification sometime this year.Fail. I have gotten so off-track with this, I don’t know when I’m going to pick it back up again. Incorporate more arena work into my weekly riding routine.Fail for arena riding, but I did more mid-week conditioning rides than ever before. Keep getting off and hiking/running.Fail. My own fitness is a horrible joke right now. I’ve got good riding fitness, but the hiking and running legs are definitely not there.
- Keep tracking mileage. Yes! Every single ride I did got recorded this year. To date, I’ve got 863 miles logged for this year, and still a couple more weeks left…
- Do more gluing on of boots. Yes! I glued on my own boots for 3 rides this year, plus at Tevis, and my failures were due to glue experimentation with an insufficient adhesive…and when I used the wrong size of boots.
- No major truck repairs. Yes! (Again, not something I can really control, but if I have to sacrifice a hobbit to Sauron or something to ensure this trend continues into this next year, I’ll do it…)
- Remind myself to not rush my ride plan. Yes! I am really proud of myself for sticking to my goal of laying a solid foundation for Liberty, and doing what was in her best interest for our ride schedule.
Blog more frequently.I should stop kidding myself. I’m never going to be one of those blog-5-times-a-week people. That makes it way too much like a job, and takes the fun out of it. I’ll stick with my format of “post my ride stories, or any other particularly interesting happenings…and then find the in-between stuff on social media.”
Looking Ahead to 2023…
What’s on the plate for 2023?
- 100-Mile Goals. 100s have always been my main goal in endurance. This will be Liberty’s third season competing…it’s time. To that end, I am planning the 20 Mule Team 100 in Ridgecrest in February. It is known for being a “good” first 100 in that it’s not as breathtakingly challenging as something like Tevis. It’s a ride that still demands respect (any 100 does), and a certain strategy…but it is very similar terrain to what we regularly ride. If that goes well…then we will plan for bigger rides in the summer.
- Balancing ride and rest. With longer/bigger ride goals will come more of a need for longer recovery and rest periods. Remember “quality” over “quantity” and don’t get caught up in chasing too many rides. Use the in-between time to do some more volunteering and helping out at local rides again.
- I’ve got some fun plans in place already, including heading down to Florida for the AERC Convention to run the Renegade booth at the Trade Show, and staying through the following weekend for the FITS ride.
- Dipping my toes in the waters of ride management. Starting small, but I am going to be one of Lancette’s assistant managers for the Tonto Twist ride.
- Club activities. We’ve got some great things in the works for this year, including a year-long “team challenge” designed to support and encourage new riders and have them team up with more experienced rider for training and rides.
- Keep on seeing what the big mare can do. This past season was absolutely incredible…I never set out with a deliberate eye on any of our top ten finishes…but to do as well as we did feels absolutely amazing. So we’re going to keep doing more of the same. Ride Liberty’s ride…ride smart…don’t waste time…and see what and where it gets us. The greatest gift has been to share so many miles with this amazing mare, and the relationship that has formed over those miles.
2022 was a year of a lot of ups and downs. Some very low downs and dark days and losses, and some amazing highs and successes. I suppose that’s a cross-section of life, though…rarely are there times when it’s all good or all bad. Horses and riding still remain one of my centering lifelines, though…a place to escape when the entire world is going mad, where I can forget about the bad, the things I can’t change or control, to put it aside for a time and focus on the here and now, nothing but me and my horse.
As we continue on with the holiday season, I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’m sure I’ll be back with more seasonal festivities of the bedecked equine variety, much to Liberty’s delight and Mimi’s dismay…