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.

Memes of 2020

I don’t know if I’ll write a full-tilt year-in-review or not this year. It’s 2020. What’s the point? Everyone knows what happened, for better or for worse (mostly for worse) at this point, so I might just hit on a couple of bullet points personally.

The Good:

  • I got to go to Florida and play on the beach
  • I got a new horse
  • We finished our first ride together in over 4 years
  • I got my own trailer

The Bad:

  • My turtle of 28 years (and my longest-running and oldest pet), died
  • My grandmother died
  • Riding plans for the vast majority of the year went completely awry and off the rails (catch-ride Atti went lame, spring/summer ride season was non-existent, late summer/early fall riding was limited due to air quality from all the wildfires, schedule conflicts happened)

I’m kind of surprised I managed to keep at “at least one post a month” blog streak still going over the course of this year, but I did. And of course Facebook and Instagram for some more day-to-day insights.

So, without any further adieu, I present some of my favorite memes of 2020. Some made me laugh, some made me nod in agreement, and others made me go, “huh.” There’s snark, there’s humor, there’s eye-rolling, there are uncomfortable truths. This is just a selection of them that were applicable to my outlook and mental state at some point over the year. At least, the “fit for public consumption” ones.

I’m not naive or idealistic enough to think that the clocks magically clicking over to 2021 will make all the bad currently swirling around go away. But I am optimistic enough to keep clinging to a little bit of hope that it might.

Right now, I don’t really have any goals for 2021…well, I do, but I’m waiting for a little bit to toss them into the ether, because they have the potential to be lofty, so I’m practicing a bit of “holding my counsel” until I have a better idea of if they are realistically attainable.

First up on the slate, though, is something I am super excited about: Liberty and I will be participating in a “Jim and Mark Show” clinic — aka, a Mark Rashid and Jim Masterson collaborative clinic being held in Phoenix in January. I can’t think of a better way to start the year…an “eyes on the ground” riding session with a clinician whom I have long followed, and a bodywork session with the man himself of my bodywork certification program. (Jim also worked with the US Endurance Team for a number of years, so he is familiar with the sport.)

It’s the same weekend as the Tonto Twist ride, but these collab clinics usually only happen a few times a year, and this is the first one to come to Phoenix, so it was an opportunity I absolutely couldn’t miss.

Arizona is shaping up to have a good ride season so far in 2021, with a ride within the state scheduled (or tentatively scheduled) for every month except May-June-July. (And that could change, I’ve not heard if the Flagstaff Monsoon Fever ride will be back this year or not…if it is, that’s usually June.) We’ve even got a 100-miler on the books to wrap up the season at the Lead-Follow @ McDowell ride. (Talk about a great end-of-season goal, and good timing for “structure your ride season to lead up to a 100.” And McDowell is a good move-up ride for anyone looking for that first 100.)

As a founding member and one of the “behind the scenes” planners, I can say that the AZ Endurance Riders Club has some big plans in the works for this year, starting up our clinics and learning events, with something on the calendar every month through June at this point, with more to come.

So this could end up having the potential to be a really good year…especially if the final meme below has any bearing or truth to it…

But maybe, just to be safe…

After-Action Report: Jingle Bell Trot

A week post-ride, and Liberty is looking and feeling fantastic. Something I am being cognizant about with her being older is the critical importance of recovery time. I know in humans, recovery takes longer as we age, and while I don’t know if that rings exactly true in horses, it does make sense that it may. The Estrella terrain is also very rugged, and there’s just no getting around the fact it’s one of those rides that tends to beat horses up a bit with the footing. Given all that, I’m giving her some extra down-time post-ride — all part of that foundation laying and forming solid building blocks of conditioning.

I was very happy with how she looked this weekend — legs are tight (actually looking even better than when I brought her home), body is overall good (some cursory bodywork showed some tightness in the loins and SI, but that’s not surprising given that we’re still building that topline), and attitude is fantastic. She is super playful, especially for a mare, and she kept grabbing my hoof stand and waving it around like it was a traffic cone or something yesterday. (Fortunately it’s a plastic base type of stand, especially when she decided to fling it across the aisle at one point. I think someone will be getting a proper horse toy for Christmas. Or a traffic cone.)

photo by John Kordish

I’m really thrilled with how the ride went overall. My main goals were finish in time with a sound horse. So to finish with a comfortable time buffer, still having to rate back Miss Enthusiastic, with all A’s across the board the entire time of movement, makes me absolutely thrilled.

There were just a couple of minor things I need to address or could have done better on.

  • The biggest was hind end interfering. She never interfered in the past that I could see, so I’m not sure what has changed. I left her slightly long on her trim, with the intention being to prove a little extra hoof material there for protection against the rocks, or if she pitched a boot off. However, it might have ended up being a little too long, since she was interfering on the sides of her boots, as well as up on her fetlocks. It may also have been we’re going at a faster pace than what we’ve done in the past, and it may be part of the building condition process, that she’s going to knock herself a bit as that topline is getting better built up and she carries herself even better.
  • To that end, I’m still going to start running her with hind interference ankle boots for added protection.
  • She’s still not great at being syringed. Better than before, but my elyte mix was salty enough that after one squirt of it, she was no longer doing her “grab for the syringe” trick. So, work in progress.
  • More proactive cooling. She’s one of the larger, bigger-bodied horses I’ve ridden, not to mention a dark color. Her pulse hung at the finish for a couple minutes, and I didn’t do much aside from taking her over to the troughs to drink. I probably could have pulled tack and sponged her, but I’m always reluctant to dump my saddle in the dirt. Hindsight being what it was, since we had to go by the trailer to get to the finish anyway, I could have swung in and dropped the saddle on the saddle rack first. Ah, well, something to remember for the future.
  • Along that same line, I didn’t bother to bring my folding cart, because it was an away check, so I figured I didn’t need the cart to haul stuff around the trailer. Wrong. That would have definitely come in handy for hauling water, and the manure bucket. Something to explore in the future is, provided there is room at the finish in an out-of-the-way area, setting up my own mini self-crewing area with my cart, so I can comfortably pull tack and have a spot to put it.
  • I don’t think she likes orchard grass pellets as much as her previous oat/alfalfa blend. She loves wet beet pulp but wasn’t as crazy about wet pellet mush.
  • Personally…I need to get back on some kind of gym/fitness track. This isn’t a year-end/new year’s resolution…it’s just an actual fact. The pounds started slowly creeping up on me again, and I could stand to lose a few more of them. Riding more helps, but I definitely benefit from doing some kind of work-out activity/routine. Just because I’m riding a larger horse who can carry the weight isn’t a free excuse for me to not try to keep my weight category as light as possible. We’re not going fast enough at this point to worry about standing for BC, either, so extra pounds aren’t any benefit.
photo by Susan Kordish

Gear Rundown:

  • Zilco Endurance Bridle (Add-On Headstall style)
  • Fager Bit, ‘Nils’ model with baby fulmer cheekpieces
  • Wild West Endurance mohair reins
  • Zilco Ultra-Light Endurance Breastcollar
  • Frank Baines ‘Reflex’ monoflap dressage saddle
  • Archer Equine saddle pad
  • Total Saddle Fit Slim Stability Stirrup Leathers
  • Total Saddle Fit synthetic waffle girth with sheepskin cover
  • True Grit Endurance Outfitters pommel bag
  • Renegade Hoof Boots
  • PerformaRide tights
  • LAS helmet
  • Roeckl ‘Miami’ gloves
  • Ariat Terrain boots/half chaps

No complaints in any of the gear department, aside from the aforementioned “need to figure out why she’s interfering” since that took a toll on her hind boots (and her fetlocks). She’s been super-tricky to find a bit for, but I think I’ve found a couple of different models from Fager Bits that she’s very responsive to, and these are definitely my new favorite go-to for bits.

For now, the Frank Baines saddle is working. I really like it as a saddle — gorgeous leather, and the deep seat and big knee rolls make it nice for extra security. But it’s also nice enough I almost feel bad about using it as an endurance saddle sometimes (hence my reluctance to pull tack and dump such a nice saddle in the dirt). Eventually, I may consider looking at different saddle options (at 14 pounds, this one is the lightest saddles I own, but I would kind of like something even lighter, and some of the minimalist options intrigue me), but for now, I’ll stick to what I’ve got unless it becomes a problem.

For here, we’ll be aiming our sights on a 50. I wanted to do the LD for my own confidence, to know that we could do it after our string of early struggles. To have her finish so strongly gives me the confidence that it was a good stepping stone and that we’re on the right path.

Virtual Tevis Finish

Partway through the Jingle Bell Trot ride, Liberty and I racked up enough miles to finish the Virtual Tevis this year.

May it be a precursor of the real thing to come one day.

I didn’t do a very good job reporting miles here on the blog as we went along, or detailing out the rest of the individual milestones and checkpoints. On the real thing, the only section I haven’t seen is the section out of Robinson Flat, through the first canyon and to Devil’s Thumb (just before Deadwood). From Devil’s Thumb to the finish, I’ve seen the entire rest of the way, and the first 36 miles, so there’s a chunk of 16 or so miles that I’m missing.

This was such a good project for Liberty and myself to get started with, and lay a good conditioning foundation. I’m so glad the WSTF came up with this alternative for this year, and from what I’ve seen online, it sounds like it was really well-received and popular.

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