Through Their Ears

For curiosity’s sake, I sat down and started tallying up how many horses I’ve ridden. Taking into account everything from test rides of sale horses to endurance competitions, in over 25 years of riding, I’ve ridden 80+ different horses, and just in endurance alone, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to compete on over a dozen different horses.

That’s a lot of different sets of ears through which I’ve viewed the trail, and a lot of “other people’s horses.” And I’ve learned something from all of them.

(And several others that I never got any ear!cam shots.)

 

Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2018

76195737-2018-Bumble-Bee-0061

photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

In a roundabout way, I ended up with a ride entry to Bumble Bee via the Convention raffle (friend won it, but wasn’t going to be able to make it to the ride, so offered it to me), but found myself with none of my prior catch rides available. So I let a couple of friends know I was available and looking for a horse, and left it at that. Worse case scenario, if I couldn’t find a ride, I would be able to transfer my entry to next year, and I would go up and volunteer.

A week and half out from the ride, I got a Facebook message from Troy Eckard, with an offer to ride his second horse, Flash, if I was interested. It was an offer than needed no thought whatsoever, and within seconds, I was on the phone confirming that “yes, please, I would be quite interested.” Flash is experienced, with over 1000 miles and a Tevis completion last summer, and this ride was to serve as another notch in his conditioning belt towards Tevis this summer.

Of course, the weekend before the ride, I started battling a head cold, but spent several days throwing every kind of odd concoction I could find down the hatch, and I think the cold germs finally just gave up in disgust and fled (granted, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and horseradish is a little odd, but I promise, it tasted better than it sounds or smells), because I was feeling completely back to normal by the Thursday of ride week, and woke up Friday morning absolutely ready to rock the ride.

I had also arranged to do a boot fitting for a good friend (the credit/blame goes to her for being the one to introduce my father and I to more “extreme” trail riding, thus setting us off on what would eventually lead to endurance) that morning up in Camp Verde…normally way outside how far I’m willing to travel, but for that long-standing of a friend, and given the fact I would already be more than halfway up there for Bumble Bee, I made an exception. So I spent a couple of hours with her and her four horses, getting everyone sized and fitted and catching up on life before I headed back down to Bumble Bee.

img_2675.jpg

Bumble Bee and Crown King…two of my favorite destinations for my riding and running activities. I feel like I’ve traveled back this road a number of times now. 8 times, as a matter of fact.

IMG_2678

Driving through the burn area…this spot got hit last summer with the “Maggie” Fire — while not that large at 1400 acres, it burned across a section of the Black Canyon Trail, and came right up to the southern perimeter of Bumble Bee Ranch. They’ve also had no appreciable rain since April of last year, so everything is still really dry and crunchy, with no regrowth over the winter.

Every year, I cuss out the dirt portion of the road to the ranch, and habitually forget that I drive a 4WD truck until about a mile or so in, at which point I remember, “Those 4WD control buttons on your dash are there for a reason.” And then my 4WD gets its annual use.

img_2680.jpg

The amusement factor of this sign never gets old. Pretty sure there are more cows every year, though.

img_2683.jpg

Home sweet ridecamp. I’ve made it here five out of the six years the ride has been held, so it’s familiar stomping grounds for me at this point.

I got myself checked in and did some socializing, and once Troy arrived, went over to meet my ride.

IMG_2687

Meet Flash. Say hello, Flash.

Like I mentioned, Flash has some good experience under his girth. He’s also tall (15.2 or 15.3 using my highly scientific “his withers are higher than my eyebrows” method), gorgeous, and has “opinions” about just about everything in life. He is personality+ and I adored him immediately.

We got camp set up, then headed over to vet in the boys (Flash, and Troy’s mount Rymoni).

All day, it had been blowing gale-force winds (pretty sure I heard predicted there would be gusts up to 60mph at times), but we needed to get stirrups on Flash’s saddle adjusted for me, as well as the whole “maybe get to know the horse, at least briefly” aspect…so we saddled up for a quick pre-ride. Right away, we set a good tone with Flash standing politely while I climbed on and we fiddled with the stirrups, then meandered out of camp.

IMG_2688

Saddled up and ready to go. My inner tack ho fashionista approves of the black/silver tack for him. It adds to the “badass warhorse” image.

IMG_2690

Casual stroll through the desert. Wind conditions? NBD. Flapping sheet metal? Generated one little snort and side-eye. Cows? Lemme at ’em.

The wind didn’t faze either of the boys, and we got a good stretch in…mostly walking, tossed in a bit of trotting to stretch them out, and a very brief canter, so I could get a feel for all of Flash’s gaits.

They do the ride dinner Friday evening before briefing — Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a nice spread of spaghetti and meatballs and salad, and the pavilion is a great spot for both dinner and ride briefing.

Ride start for the 50s was 6:00AM (yay, beat the heat!), so the boys got to go for a little leg stretch walk, then got tucked in with light blankets for the night. I gotta admit, even if it gets warm in the day, I kind of prefer the April ride date over the January one…much more pleasant overnight temperatures.

Ride morning, I was up plenty early, my standard two hours before the start to give myself time to ease into the morning — dress, coffee, eat — without rushing around. I already had my hydration pack set with water and food, and extra water bottles ready for the saddle. Tacking up was a quick affair, Flash again stood quietly for me to get on, and we meandered over to the start on a loose rein with a couple minutes to spare.

30725573_10216458430841336_1307113975553038526_n

Chillin’ at the start. Tammy, Troy, and myself.

I’ve had some interesting ride starts in the past, so I’m never quite sure what to expect…especially since I could feel Flash literally quivering with anticipation. I had internally steeled myself for the inevitable rocket launch when the “Trail’s Open” call was given…and we casually walked out on a loose rein.

Okaaayyyy. With just a bit of encouragement from me, Flash clicked over into his power walk, and the front half of the 11 starters in the 50 made their way calmly through the ranch and out onto the trail where everyone picked up a trot and started cruising down the trail. The main objective in this first section was “keep it to a dull roar” and while Flash was strong and would have liked to go faster, he was certainly obedient enough to my request the tone it down just a bit.

76195739-2018-Bumble-Bee-0070

photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

We had a clever little checkpoint out at Antelope Falls, where the trail for the 50s breaks off from the shared trail and heads further east for several miles before cutting back in and rejoining the shared trail. In the past, riders have been asked to pick up some kind of token, but this year, there was sign with a question on it, and you would be asked for the answer back at camp during the one-hour hold. Nice to not have to worry about losing some kind of token, or jumping off to sign a clipboard.

IMG_2694

Antelope Falls. Normally there’s water there, but everything was so dry this year. Our checkpoint question was on the white sign.

My favorite section of this ride is the Black Canyon Trail — all single-track, fairly smooth, with just a few rocky areas and enough ups and downs to keep it very interesting. It’s a trail that really helps to have an athletic horse…one that had a former life as a dressage horse was a major bonus.

IMG_2701

On the Black Canyon Trail, making our way (eventually) towards camp

I’ve run or ridden this section of the BCT multiple times now, and it never fails to delight me. It’s scenic, it’s interesting, it keeps you and the horse paying attention. To me, that all adds up to what makes a really fun trail.

The trail eventually ends up in a wash that has a tiny little creek running through it — another favorite section of trail. This time, I laugh a lot as Flash was being a bit prissy about the whole “trotting through the water” idea. He thought we should be to the side of it, or jumping over it, and when we’d start trotting through it, I could see him actually wrinkling his nose up a little bit. Again, “opinions.” He also couldn’t possibly drink out of the stream water…but as soon as we hit the water troughs set out in front of the ranch, he tanked up.

The horses (and riders) get a bit of a mind-twist at this point. The trail for the 25s goes right up into the ranch, but the 50s end up heading up the wash for another several miles before looping back down and coming in the same way we went out in the morning. Both boys kept glancing over as we headed up the wash, just looking for a break in the vegetation, or a trail that would offer the first opportunity to cut east and head back. Their wish was eventually granted…several miles later.

The trail coming back into camp is pretty nice, although there are several gates to be opened, but we took it easy, backing off the pace the closer we got, and hopping off and hand-jogging in the last quarter mile before walking the last 100 yards or so. They boys had drank really well not far out from camp, so they weren’t interested in the in-camp water when offered, so we immediately went over to pulse and both were down right away.

They got a little bit of time back at the trailer first to eat, then we took them back over to vet. Passed with flying colors, and then back to the trailer again to chow and snooze. I got my pack ready to go back out on loop 2 — refill water, add more food — then briefly sat down to eat a quick lunch and send a quick text update to friends/family. The hour hold actually zoomed by, and before long, it was time to head back over to the out-timer, with a couple minutes to spare.

The first part of loop two is called the “Miner Bob” loop, apparently named after a miner in the area. It’s got a lot of mining claims, and still some kind of mining activity here and there. It’s a more technical, slow-going loop — part of it is winding through a wash in a canyon (Troy and I were both at Virginia City 100 last year, and did some reminiscing about how at least this section was easier than Bailey Canyon at VC), so there’s some slowing down through rough footing.

IMG_2709

Our daily dose of rock climbing

There were more hills and climbs on this section, too, and Flash is a great climber, so he and I lead through this section multiple times. Leading is definitely his happy place, and his enthusiasm was infectious…several times, as I would duck alongside his neck for an overhanging tree branch, I couldn’t help but just giggle. He’s definitely a horse that makes me laugh.

IMG_2707

Trot anything that’s smooth, walk the rough.

IMG_2714

Last climb out from Miner Bob Loop

Once clear of Miner Bob Loop, it was back onto the Black Canyon Trail, this time heading in the opposite direction from the first loop. But first, a pause down in the creek, for a drink and for Flash to proceed to pose for photographer Sue Kordish.

76195742-2018-Bumble-Bee-066576195744-2018-Bumble-Bee-066776195746-2018-Bumble-Bee-067176195748-2018-Bumble-Bee-0672

The last two especially are my favorites. He is such a ham for the camera, and I could feel him deliberately focusing on Sue, and then doing some kind of little pose or showoff moment.

I finally had to convince the showman to get his butt back on the trail, which he did, and quite cheerfully as soon as he realized we were leading out. I had the best time ever the next 5 miles or so back up the BCT in the lead, and it felt like we danced down that trail. He was soft, responsive, and so incredibly tuned in to whatever I was asking.

IMG_2720

Leading ears on the BCT

I always feel supremely fortunate whenever I experience one of those “horsey zen” moments at a ride, and this was definitely one of them.

Coming off the BCT, we rejoined the same trail from the morning, minus the detour out to Antelope Falls, and eventually connected to the very same in-trail from loop one. We followed the same routine of slowly backing their pace off the closer we got to camp, coming in at an easy jog, and meandering across the finish line, with a round of rock-paper-scissors to determine placing order.

We also found out we were in 2nd and 3rd — which was quite a surprise, as we had been sitting in 4th/5th all day, but somewhere in the last few miles, the two in front of us made a navigation error, and they ended up coming in about 10 minutes behind us.

IMG_2725

Finished! 3rd place, ride time of 6:21.

That also meant getting to show for Best Condition — the first time for me! The vets did a CRI 10 minutes after finishing, and then we took the boys back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat before BC judging an hour after our finish time.

76198096-2018-Bumble-Bee-1052

Doing our trot-out for the CRI
photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Troy’s Rymoni came away with Best Condition, but I was pretty tickled to find out that Flash had the high vet score. Always super gratifying to know that you rode well, finished well, and the horse looked good.

IMG_2730

Out for a walk later that afternoon. Both showered and cleaned up, and still enjoying each other’s company.

Because I don’t particularly like driving down I-17 and back into Phoenix on a weekend evening (hello, crazier-than-normal traffic)…and I don’t spend nearly as much time with my endurance tribe as I would like…I had decided to stay over Saturday night, then head back home Sunday morning. Good call, as it made for a leisurely afternoon, plenty of socializing, and not having to mainline large amount of caffeine to avoid being zombie!driver.

Sunday morning, it was super-cute to see how cheerful Flash looked — I came around the corner of the trailer, and he looked up, ears up and eyes bright, like, “Oh, it’s you! Hi!!” And I didn’t even have food for him. ;) Safe to say I definitely connected very strongly with him. He took really good care of me, made me laugh countless times, and I just felt really strong and confident riding him. It was an eye-opening, inspiring weekend, that’s for sure.

I have no idea what’s next on the books, since the AZ ride season winds down from now until the fall, but as always, just kind of playing everything by ear and taking things as they come…

Spring Fever

Lest anyone think I’ve forgotten about the pony, I can assure you she’s still doing her best to enliven my life and keep things interesting. And promote the idea that it doesn’t matter how old or semi-retired they are, horses never lose their capacity for self-destruction.

29365424_10109353186376421_5364375051321737216_n

No clue what happened, but I’ve gotten pretty skilled over the years at dealing with this type of wound/injury, and have the well-stocked first aid kit to prove it. Clipped, cleaned, and layer-wrapped in short order, and since she wasn’t lame, we still went on to have a nice ride.

Pretty sure that was payback for being gone the previous two weekends in a row.

29342934_10109353186241691_8221552017206673408_n

Plus, I had to play with my shiny, Convention-acquired new toys.

Verdict: I thought the Archer Equine saddle pad was going to be huge (“the saddle pad ate my pony”) but it actually fits really well with the Duett. Reserving judgment until I give it several rides and wash it, but for its initial trial run, I liked it.

Myler eggbutt, MB33 mouthpiece, is pony-approved, and she worked really well in it.

And I love the mohair reins. Great feel, and weight-wise, they feel like a perfect balance between flat braid reins and round rope rein. To me, at least, a lot of the flat braid are too insubstantial and light, but round yacht rope is just a little too bulky/thick. Plus the mohair is super-soft and feels really good, even without gloves. I know I’ve had really good luck with my high-quality mohair girths washing up really well and lasting a long time, so I’m assuming the same will hold true for the reins.

Happy Monday, all, and hope the rest of the week treats everyone well!

2018 AERC Convention

So I’m still catching up…March has been a busy month that’s seen me head down to Florida for the FITS ride for work (company rep), back home for a few days, and then off to Reno for the AERC Convention. Coming up, I’m catering one of my mom’s workshop events, and then will be setting up at The Mane Event expo here in Scottsdale at the end of the month. Whew.

In a nutshell, Florida was awesome, and I even got to sneak in a short training ride on some of the most beautiful footing I’ve ever seen.

IMG_2115

Dandy Gold, a super-fun cutie Arab x QH mare. I fell in love with her, the same way I fall in love with all good horses.

AERC Convention

This was my 7th year attending the AERC Convention, and it was the best yet. I had some phenomenal help in running the Renegade Hoof Boots booth (Tim & Lara, who helped me out at Horse Expo last year, and are AZ-based long-time Renegade users/dealers, with Tim also being a trimmer), I got my annual All-You-Can-Eat sushi fix, it was probably the best-attended convention to date since I’ve started attending…and the topper…

I WON THE TEVIS ENTRY IN THE RAFFLE!!!

IMG_2239

I threw the vast majority of my tickets into the National, SW Region, and MT Region buckets — cool stuff in the National bucket (scored a $100 Riding Warehouse gift card out of that, as a matter of fact), and both SW and MT region had ride certificates up for grabs for rides I was likely to attend.

Only a few of my rather substantial number of tickets went into the separate Tevis entry drawing…just for fun. Because what are the odds, right?

IMG_8293

Barbara White (holder of the record number of Tevis buckles) is my new best friend, because out of all those tickets in the bin to the left, she pulled mine out. That’s got to be good luck…
photo by Merri Melde

I still don’t know if my epically stunned face after the announcement was ever captured on camera, but I’m pretty sure that was a good minute+ of “wait, was that my name?” processing going on before I managed to make my feet move from where I had been standing. I also think that’s one of the first times I’ve been stunned into silence…normally I announce my excitement with ear-piercing shrieks. This time, I was reduced to nonsensical babbling.

Four days later, I’m still pinching myself. I actually have the Tevis entry printed out and sitting next to my desk. Not filled out yet, obviously, but I’ve got time, and I’ve already reached out to my endurance network to see if anyone has a spare horse they’d like ridden…I’ve got ideas, and a possibility or two in the pipeline, so it’ll be interesting to see how the next few months shake out. All I know is, this is my 10th year attending Tevis, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate that than to ride it, God willing.

Obviously, winning the entry was the absolute highlight of the weekend, but even without that, it would have been an outstanding weekend. Reno is my favorite place to have the Convention (even if the hotel was more smoke-filled than I’ve ever experienced…even in the “nonsmoking” rooms, the stale smoke smell permeates the entire place), if only for the fact so many of my endurance friends attend. And it seemed like in was really well-attended this year. Definitely more vendors than in the last few years, and while I can’t speak for other vendors, I know we had a steady stream of people at the Renegade booth all weekend.

IMG_0087

Working the booth. Not sure what I was in the middle of doing or saying.
photo by Merri Melde

Tim & Lara were great to work with — they’ve been using the boots for almost as long as I have, and Tim is a trimmer, so is an incredibly knowledgeable resource to have available, as he can directly address trimming questions that people may have, or take a barefoot horse-keeping conversation far deeper and more involved than just “how do I put the boot on?”

I had a new display format for this year — a popup display with velcro-receptive fabric panels that allows me to print out photos/posters, attach velcro to them, and then change them out at will or to match a particular event/discipline. I really like it, and although I had to play some major “photo Tetris” while setting everything set up, the end result looked phenomenal.

I also did my annual “drool over ReactorPanel Saddles” booth visit. I finally got to ride in one down in Florida, and it totally sold me on them. I think I’ve finally narrowed down my favorites to the Tribute Trail with the endurance knee blocks (which, curiously enough, on a sawhorse, I’m like, “meh” about…but on a moving horse, they are phenomenal), or the HTT (flapless Heraldic on Tribute Tree) with the scooped bumps. Methinks I need to buy some raffle tickets for the RP drawing at Tevis this year. Because raffle luck…

Reno is also known as the AYCE (All You Can Eat) sushi capital of the world, so it’s become somewhat of an annual tradition for a group of us to go out one evening. And it’s really fun with a larger group (we had 10 this time), because you end up ordering so many different varieties, and getting to try everything.

IMG_2230

yummmmmm — AYCE sushi at Jazmine

I also had to keep my resident tack ho status firmly in place, and came home with a pair of mohair reins from Wild West Endurance Company (formerly Hooves N Whiskers), and a saddle pad and Myler bit scored from the tack swap. (I also brought stuff to sell at the tack swap and most of it sold, so the karmic sales/purchase ratio remains in balance.)

IMG_2237

Shopping and drooling. The purple/black/natural braid is a sample of the same colors as my reins. I want the black/turquoise combo on a future chestnut, though.

I failed to get any photos of getting dressed up for the Saturday night awards dinner, but I wore a dress, and had sparkly glitter high heels. I can wear more than just riding tights and running clothes.

I’ve learned the hard way not to schedule early morning flights out of Reno, since Saturday inevitably turns into a late night…that always coincides with the changing of the clocks for Daylight Saving Time. That’s one hour of lost sleep I’m never gonna get back.

Anyway…flight out wasn’t until the afternoon, so I could sleep in a bit, grab breakfast, and then wander down to catch the last hour+ of the AERC board of director’s meeting, which was quite interesting. I ran for SW Region director this past election cycle and didn’t make it, which I look at now and realize was a good thing. I would have been eaten alive. You have to have some pretty thick skin to be on the board, and not be afraid of confrontation and conflict. So maybe not now…but maybe in a few years. I like that they open up the meeting to members, so if I attend a few more of those and get a better feel for how the whole thing works, I’ll be in a better spot down the road to run and subsequently hold my own if elected.

Flying home was uneventful, even if Sky Harbor airport was an absolute madhouse zoo coming home. I think my parents will thank me if I can avoid flying home on a Sunday evening again any time in the near future, since that’s two Sundays in a row they faced down hellacious airport traffic for me. ;)

Starting now, my goal is to cram in as much saddle time as I can…I’ll be chasing down catch rides left and right, in addition to seeing what the pony may be feeling up to in-between. I’m also planning to up my fitness/workout regime to more than the 2x/week I do now, so that no matter what horse I end u[ riding, I know that I’ll be ready for it.

Plus, I’ve got new toys to play with…not that I need any excuse for good saddle time.

Love Arizona

While everyone’s all #HappyValentinesDay, I’m over here like #HappyStatehoodDayAZ. Because I’ve got puppy snuggles and pony kisses, and I love my state.

One big photo spam of state love.

I don’t have a favorite part of this state. (Although I’m tired of suburbia. There’s a reason the photos all feature the great outdoors, and not my surrounding sea of tiles roofs.) I love that I can get everything from cactus to pines, sand to snow.

Sure, the desert bakes your brains out in the summer, but last weekend, I was riding in a tank top. And there’s no snow to shovel. There’s also plenty of location options for those who prefer four distinctive seasons. (What’s that?)

I’ve been to or through every corner of the state, and plenty of time in the middle of it. I’ve ridden, hiked, or run on trails all over; boated, floated or waded in lakes and rivers; summit’d peaks and descended into the depths of canyons. Sunrises and sunsets painted from a palette of imagination and sheer beauty. Cactus hugs. Quaking aspens.

We’re the youngest state in the continental US, and 48th out of the 50 states to be granted statehood, received in 1912. We have a population of approximately 7 million, making us the 14th largest state by population. And Phoenix is the most populated state capital. (Oh yay. Said with much sarcasm and an overabundance of congestion overwhelm, since I live in the Phoenix metro area…where 2/3 of the state’s population also lives.)

We’re the 6th largest state by landmass. And only 18% of it is privately held. State Trust holds just under 13%, while the Fed “manages” about 42% and the remaining 27% is tribal. We also have the largest number of national monuments of the states — 18. (This would be why so much of the population is all crammed into the greater Phx area and any amount of acreage for property is precious and at a premium. <long-suffering annoyed sigh and eyeroll>

State stuff
Flower: saguaro cactus blossom
Gemstone: turquoise
Tree: palo verde
Bird: cactus wren
Fossil: petrified wood
Mammal: ringtail

Happy 106th, Arizona!