Virtual Tevis

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Liberty and I are riding for our first Tevis buckle…

Virtual buckle, that is. :)

With life Tevis being cancelled this year, the WSTF came up with a fun alternative…a virtual Tevis, to ride 100 miles in 100 days (as well as a non-riding division to bike, walk, run, etc). And finishers do get a completion buckle sticker.

I figured this would be a great first goal for Liberty and myself. We’re #499, if you want to follow us on virtual Tevis. Those shorter, leg-up rides will all add up, and even more so once we hit the trails. It’s something fun to do, but at the same time, provide a concrete goal and time frame to work within. Miles are submitted as you go, starting on what would have been the actual ride date, August 1, through Nov 9. Significant milestones that you reach along the way (Cougar Rock, vet checks, etc) are noted as the miles are submitted.

After being at Tevis annually since 2012, and a few times before then, it felt very strange to not be there this year. Earlier in the year, shortly after the ride got cancelled, my initial reaction was kind of, “meh.” I understood the disappointment for those planning to go, but I was in the midst of a major case of burnout — crewing burnout, catch riding burnout, and a fading interest in endurance and riding in general. It’s kind of amazing how the addition of Liberty into my life has restored my enthusiasm, and once again infused me with the drive and desire that’s fueled my endurance dreams over the years.

Rewatching the Japanese Tevis documentary from last year’s ride also got that Tevis flame rekindled again. I don’t know if “Tevis” will ever be in Libby’s and my vocabulary…she is 14, and we’ve not even completed a 50 yet. Because as much as I say, “low expectations,” at the same time, it’s hard to not at least entertain some dreams, both big and small, in the back of my mind. Because you just never know.  To me, at least, it’s always better to have hope and possibilities that can develop into something, than to have nothing to reach for and move towards.

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Cougar Rock practice? Climbing at Groom Creek a few years ago.

So to that end, we’re going to start with the baby steps of virtual Tevis. Maybe it will be the start of an actual road to Tevis. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a small portion of both my heart and brain that have squirreled away this notion. Nobody can ever accuse me of not dreaming big, that’s for sure. The biggest unknowns are if she likes longer distances (won’t know until we try) and if her age will catch up and work against her (also don’t know until we try). She’s certainly got a lot going for her — the brains, the heart, the self-care, good metabolics, savvy trailcraft, and the fact I don’t have to try very hard to imagine myself riding her for 100 miles.

But ultimately, as I’ve come to learn in this sport, a goal isn’t the end point, but rather a point along the larger journey as a whole. And with this mare, I think I’m going to enjoy the journey.

Virtual Tevis, Week One

In our first week of virtual Tevis, we’re a whole 2 miles down the trail. Baby steps right now as we work on laying that foundation. We’ve done two short arena rides so far, and I’ve quite happy with the levels of success we hit. Her first ride back after sitting for the past year+, she was an absolute gem. We did some obstacles in the trail course, we walked, we trotted a bit. The second ride, we went into the proper arena. She tested the waters a bit on this ride — a little up, a little nervy — but I was able to maintain my calm, work her through those testing bits, and we ended on a really good note of walking around on a loose rein for a few minutes.

This will be an interesting road, because she’s above the level of “green horse” and has the advantage of mental maturity going for her. Gina did more with her than I previously realized in terms of life experiences — in addition to the 5 AERC LDs she’s done, Gina took her to at least one NATRC ride and was a safety/drag rider, she’s done some horsemanship clinics, went to an intro to cow working clinic, and has done a lot of trail riding. So she’s got more exposure than I originally thought, but “niceties” like arena work are still a bit of a hazy concept to her.

And everything I’ve done with her in the past has been the very focused ride environment with the sole intent of “get on the trail and keep moving” and I squashed in whatever training I could do along the way (which was the reason for both of our OT pulls — the ride itself turned into someone of a training session, and I chose to take the time to sort some issues out at the expense of finishing in time, but with both of our brains and bodies still intact).

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Pretty girl. For all my love of wild colors, I’m really liking the black/white on her. 
And someone needs a crupper.

Now, I’ve got the luxury of time and my own schedule on my side, and I find myself not in a major hurry to rush things. I want to take the time to us to figure each other out. It’s actually been a long time since I’ve been in this position of being in the driver’s seat and calling the shots with my own horse, so I’ve savoring the entirety of the experience. I learned a lot of “on the job training” via catch riding and having the chance to be mentored by some very experienced endurance riders whom I greatly respect, and now I’m eager to put that learning into practice.

Things I’ve Learned And Some Things I Already Knew About Her:

  • She hates being syringed (break out the molasses and cue “every ride dosing with the syringe” practice)
  • She loves water and is totally unfazed by the hose wrapping around her legs and flailing about her body
  • She probably needs a crupper (but I don’t think she’s ever worn one)
  • When you upgrade your horse size by a good 6 inches, you need longer girths
  • She’s a solid 15.1 with no withers…and her size feels very “right” to me
  • She’s retained her perfect manners for mounting
  • She’s never worn a fly mask or fly sheet before and neither one of them fazed her at all
  • She’s just as fussy as Mimi about finding an acceptable bit
  • She loves being groomed and fussed over — at-a-ride grooming has always been more along the lines of “get the job done” style, but in reality, she’s perfectly happy to stand tied and be pampered for an hour
  • She has a huge “try”
  • I’m indecisive about color because she’s another one that multiple colors could look good on…so we’re going with black/white right now

On to Week Two!

 

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Leaving this here. Because the moon is absolutely Tevis-iconic, so I feel like this makes for a very appropriate quote.

The Year Tevis Wasn’t

You know it’s a strange year when Tevis cancels. In all of the years since its inception, there have only been two major disruptions to the ride’s scheduled date — the 2008 cancellation due to massive wildfires, and the 2011 date change to October due to late-season snow. But 2020 has been the first time the Tevis Board of Governors has preemptively voted to cancel the ride, and well in advance of the scheduled date.

Given that I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to Auburn every summer since 2012 (and several other intermittent times prior to then), it feels very strange to not be there this year.

(The WSTF has creatively offered a “virtual Tevis” this year — 100 miles in 100 days, based on your miles submitted from training rides, competitions, and other horsey endeavors. Liberty and I are signed up, as our first major “goal” together. It kicks off Aug 1 — what was supposed to be Ride Day — and continues through Nov 9.)

As I write this now, it is the evening on Friday of what would have been the day before Tevis.  The scenic drive across I-80 from Auburn to Truckee would have been completed, the temperatures dropping the further east we headed, the scenery changing from the Auburn foothills to the soaring alpine peaks of the Sierras. The long last stretch into Robie Park would have been made, with obligatory remarks among all in the vehicle of, “I always forget how long of a drive it is back here.” The vehicles would have received their first coating of Tevis dust.

A parking spot would have been found — most people have a “favorite” spot, and all of us are convinced that “our” spot is the “best” for various reasons.

Riders would have checked in, signed their waivers and paperwork, and picked up their rider packets. Horses would be vetted in, numbered, and gone out for a pre-ride to the start line, and perhaps the first couple miles of the trail. There was also likely some time slotted in there for perusing the vendor tents. (Pro Crew Tip: When your rider goes out for a pre-ride, that is a great time to sneak in a blitz round of shopping.)

Crew and rider will all be tending to some of the details around camp — making sure the crew bags are packed and that everything that needs to go to the Robinson Flat vet check is set aside, or packed in a secondary crew vehicle. Horses may be getting last-minute tending such as mane braiding, or making sure they’re eyeballs-deep in a bucket. Camp is being tidied up so there is minimal clean-up in the morning before leaving Robie Park. All afternoon long are chances to attend various pre-ride meetings (crew meeting, first-time rider meeting, junior rider meeting) although none of these are mandatory (unless you’re a junior rider/sponsor) until the main ride briefing later in the evening.

The ride offers the opportunity to purchase meal tickets to a pre-briefing dinner, but over the years, my core Tevis group has found that it is easier/less stressful/more predictable to put together our own meal ahead of time and eat dinner before briefing.

By 6pm, all horses will have been vetted, and ride briefing started at 6:45. For as much information as there is to be covered, much of it has been provided ahead of time via the e-packet emailed out to riders in the weeks preceding the ride, and the briefing serves to reiterate the most critical parts of that information, as well as any last-minute changes to be made. This meeting is mandatory for riders, and most crew members will also attend.

After the meeting adjourns, riders may linger for a few moments to briefly socialize, must most quickly disperse back to their trailers. Horses are taken out for a final walk for the evening. Tack is given a final once over, set-up and ready to go first thing in the morning.

Some crew leave out early in a separate crew car to spend the night back down the hill in Auburn or Foresthill, so as to be that much closer to Robinson Flat and avoid the log-jam of rush hour that is the great trailer exodus out of Robie Park in the morning.

 

The morning will roll around all too quickly, and most riders try to get to bed as early as possible. Pony noses are kissed goodnight, accompanied by a quick cuddle and gentle admonition to eat and drink well overnight, and rest up.

Finally, before bed, the full moon is glanced up at. Wishes are being made on it, and not on stars, tonight. Wishes from the riders that hope they’ll be seeing that moon again the following night, along the trail and all the way to the stadium in Auburn. Wishes from crew for a safe ride for their horse and ride, and that they’ll be watching the moon from the dark, quiet knoll next to the finish line as they wait for their rider to appear out of the darkness and sweep under the banner.

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Good night Tevis riders, and Tevis crews. May we all be gathered back together under that Rider’s Moon in 2021. Best of luck to all participating in the virtual ride this year, and I will “see” you on the virtual trail.

A New Addition

In the 27 years I’ve been riding, I have ridden dozens of horses. At one point, I even had a running list going, and I think I managed to remember the vast majority of them. But in all that time, only one of those horses has ever been mine. This fall will mark 24 years for me and Mimi, and what a ride it’s been. She has given me more than I could have ever asked for, is my heart and soul, and she was well-earned the right to gracefully retire, with her dignity, soundness, and spirit still intact. And as long as she still gets the first cookie handouts of the day, I don’t think she will object too strenuously over me bringing in a new pony.

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Prescott Chaparral 30, 2013; AZ Cowgirl Photography

Welcome home, Liberty.

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, she will be a recognizable face. I first rode her back in 2013, and she was another “instant click” horse I bonded with the moment my butt hit the saddle. We’ve done four limited distance endurance rides together, have the most breathtakingly unimpressive, bordering-on-laughable record together (we are 1/4 on ride completions, thanks in large part to under-preparation and a pinch of bad luck), but every single time, I’ve had fun with her. And that’s what I’m after right now — fun, and the ability to ride without feeling a low-grade sense of guilt or anxiety over “why am I still asking my aging pony to tote me around.” She’s a fabulous trail horse, and although she’s 14 now, she has done so very little in life that she has virtually no wear and tear on her.

Prescott Chaparral 30 2013
Bumble Bee 25 2014
Bumble Bee 25 2016
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Groom Creek camping weekend 2016

My goal is to start small, and with low expectations. I just want to see what she does with more regular conditioning, and if it’s a positive result…go from there. I believe she has the ability to be very versatile as well, so if she doesn’t absolutely love tearing up the endurance trail, I think we can find plenty of options to amuse ourselves with as alternates. In the meantime, she’s a quasi-project — she has a solid foundation of training and decent amount of life exposure and experiences, but she’s been sitting around for the past year+, so is a bit soft and fluffy. So while she’ll need some work to get back into fitness, she’s not a training project the same way a youngster would be (the kind who need ideally need 5-6 short, frequent training sessions/week, and that’s just not going to happen in my current reality). She’s also in “pasture condition” and has lived a lifestyle of 24/7 herd turnout with lots of movement and a very simple, grass-hay diet, so she doesn’t have a bunch of extra “fat pounds” to melt off.

When the topic of horse shopping comes up, and what to look for in an endurance horse, there’s all kinds of advice given about the conformation, the brains, size, temperament, age, training how they move/travel/hold a saddle, what to look for, what to avoid…everyone has their own personal preferences. The bit of advice that has been my favorite has been from Lucy: “They should make you laugh.”

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Bumble Bee 25, 2016; AZ Cowgirl Photography

Well, this mare makes me laugh. I’ve spent time around her in ride environments, as well as a casual camping weekend. I have seen just about every mood she has. I have shoved her off the deep end on numerous occasions and she has always risen to the task. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we’ve always gotten it done, for better or for worse. I’ve ridden her a collective 7 times to date, and I trust her completely. I enjoy spending time around her, and she’s a really fun ride. She’s also really smooth, and although I suspect she has a competitive streak that is not far below the surface (she is bred for endurance, after all, with a 100-mile-proven Shagya sire and a racebred [and raced] Arabian dam), she is easy to rate, has a very soft face, and doesn’t pull. She’s opinionated, affectionate, loves attention, and isn’t afraid to throw her feed pan at you to make her point.

As far as endurance goes, she definitely has some stuff in her favor, despite our “hot mess” of a record. She travels well, she camps well, she has EDPP down to a science (she is the embodiment of “hungry, hungry hippo” and drinks like a fish — the only horse I’ve ever ridden who stops 3 miles into a ride to drink — and cheerfully evacuates it out the back end with no hesitation as she trucks down the trail), she is mostly good on manners in-hand (probably needs a refresher on that, she can be pushy), can lead or follow in a group, will ride out by herself, is not particularly spooky and really not reactive, and doesn’t seem to ever get overly worried about life. Or if she is worried, it doesn’t put her off her feed (grab a bite, chew, scream for friend, go back to eating) or disrupt her. More, she does the disrupting, because she is loud and will loudly scream for her friends…but that’s all she does. She has really good metabolics (even under-conditioned, she pulses down really fast) and absolutely eats hills for breakfast and asks for seconds. She’s been barefoot her whole life, has grown up in the brutally rocky Arizona desert, and can go flying over 10+ miles of an endurance rock completely barefoot and not even hesitate once. Fortunately, as long as the size/style is right, she wears boots really well.

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Exhibit A. Truly, it’s more of a bellow than scream. Lungs…she’s got ’em.

And some hills for Exhibit B.

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Rock crushing at Wickenburg after some hoofwear malfunctions. (When you work for a boot company; sometimes guinea-pig testing doesn’t always go to plan.)
AZ Cowgirl Photography

I know she’s 14…but she wasn’t started until she was 6, has lived in a large pasture turnout setting her entire life, and hasn’t had hard enough work to put a ton of wear and tear on her. So we’ll see what happens. I have big dreams…but starting with low expectations.

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Flash Photos

This past weekend, I had a chance to spend some time with my favorite Flash boy. It’s been a year since he fractured his P1, and has been given the all-clear to start light riding and slowly being legged back up.

Pretty much all of the time I’ve spent with him has been at rides, or visiting him for the couple of weeks post-injury when he was at the vet clinic so close to me. This was the first time I’ve got to hang out with him in his “natural” environment, and he’s just as entertaining in that setting as he is at a ride.

He’s also a total showoff and camera hog, and very photogenic, so I took a truly obnoxious number of pictures along the way…and will attempt to restrain myself from spamming the blog with dozens of photos and stick to just a dozen or so.

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I just love this adorable mug

I did a bodywork session on him. He was a very interesting subject to work on in terms of his releases — he’s actually very subtle, and this modality seems to really suit his personality of not liking being pressured, and backing off of pressure versus drilling down harder. Afterwards, I sat down on a pile of hay in his stall to work on my notes and paperwork, and he came over and started nibbling on his hay right next to me.

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Being beautiful and opinionated about life

He had plenty of Opinions about life, as always, especially when Claire took his BFF away for a couple of hours to go ride…but even that only amounted to the occasional circle around his pen, some head twirling, and some loudly expressed shrieks of indignation. (Gah, he’s loud.)

As a distraction, I took him for a walk around one of the big pastures. We zig-zagged back and forth, up and down, along the fenceline, pausing here and there to snatch a bite of grass, but mostly conversing and communing. Well, I conversed and he listened. At least at first. And then he had some things to say. Things like, “Let go. Trust me.”

See, I had been doing my usual “control and clamp down” approach to handling a horse who was just on this side of being “up,” and I should know better with this horse. My go-to when a horse is up is to keep a tight lead and keep them in check at all times. You would think I would know better by now, that doing that never seems to actually help, and instead gets them more revved and powder-keggy.

Bless this horse, though…I don’t know why he is so forgiving of me and my mistakes, but he certainly seems willing to humor me and give me a chance to regroup and reassess. And in this case, I needed to relax, let him have some rope, work on lengthening my own stride, and start incorporating my left hand into cues and signals. That was so much more effective than pulling on the lead rope (how many years have I been in horses and I still have to be reminded of this?), and he immediately got more settled, which meant I loosened my hold on the rope, and he relaxed even more. I think he teaches me something every time I’m around him.

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Obligatory roll in the fluffy dirt. He loves this so much.