Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50 2019

2019-ManVHorse-0415

photo by John Kordish

Man Against Horse will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first AERC ride, the LD back in 2005. It’s also a tough, challenging ride, especially the 50-miler. Historically, I’ve gone up against the 50 three times…and finished once. Perversely, I still love this ride, and the challenge makes me all the more determined to conquer it.

So I was pleased to be offered a ride for the 50-miler this year when Cristina reached out to me to see if I was available and interested in riding Atti. I did the 75 at McDowell on him two years ago and had a great ride — he’s a safe, fun, go-getter little guy, and as a bonus, trains regularly on many of the Man Against Horse trails, so this would be his home turf.

Friday late morning saw me chucking my gear and some food into my truck, then zipping up the highway a couple hours north to Prescott Valley to pick up Cristina’s trailer and Atti. Now, I haven’t had a trailer since 2011, and prior to that, we had the big truck, so my suburban hasn’t had to do any trailer hauling duty for probably at least a decade, so there were more than a few muttered “please let me make it to camp” prayers after I hitched up and headed down the road. (Pleased that I have lost none of my vehicle aligning/trailer hitching skills, even if it was a comedy of errors to get the right hitch dialed in.) I only had a 20-minute, mostly flat and easy drive in which to contemplate brewing an ulcer though, and we made it into camp with no issues.

Troy and Claire had saved me a parking spot in camp, so I didn’t have to do the typical avoidance run of “don’t park in the middle of a rock pile or cactus patch” that someones comes with the territory of camping in the middle of a cow pasture. This was probably the most “on my own” I’ve been at a ride since retiring Mimi, and selling the truck and trailer, but I quickly fell back into doing my thing.

One thing catch riding has definitely done has been to knock off a lot of my uptight, control freak rough edges, and I feel like I’ve actually gotten pretty laid back and settled about the whole production, especially Friday afternoons before the ride. I used to be ridiculously neurotic about “OMG EVERYTHING HAS TO GET DONE AND THIS HAS TO HAPPEN AND…AND…AND…” and if I wasn’t right on top of things, or I didn’t check in right away or didn’t vet as soon as vetting started, it was grounds for a nervous meltdown. I recognize a lot of that for the nerves and inexperience that it was, but with catch riding, and operating more off of so many other people’s schedules, it’s really taught me some valuable flexibility, going with the flow, and that the world doesn’t end if things don’t fall 100% in accordance with The Schedule of Ashley.

So I got Atti settled and my little camp set up, socialized and blew off some mental steam (I love my endurance family, just putting that out there), checked in, socialized a bit more, got Atti’s saddle all set up, vetted in with no drama (all As, and a smart little trot-out), then tacked up and headed out for a short pre-ride. Had to fuss with the stirrup length at one point, but other than that, we were ready to roll the next morning. Back at camp, I tucked Atti in front of his dinner, then rounded up my homemade blueberry crisp and headed over to a potluck dinner gathering before ride briefing.

IMG_9618

afternoon pre-ride

I’ve done this ride half a dozen times prior…3 years of the LD, 3 years of the 50. The trail doesn’t change, vet checks are the same, pink ribbons on your right. 6:30am start for the 50, 30 minute hold at vet check 1, 45 minute hold at vet check 2, pulse-n-go at vet check 3. Pulse parameters of 60 all day. One thing I should mention for anyone not familiar with this ride — it’s called Man Against Horse for a reason — riders and their horses are sharing the trail and competing with runners. Just like the ride, there is a 12/25/50 mile run distance offered. It’s a super-unique thing, with only a couple of rides in the world offering it that I’m aware of (the Vermont 100/Moonlight in Vermont on the east coast, and a Man Against Horse in the UK). Because of my handful of years of dabbling in trail running, I have friends both riding and running, so it’s a fun merging of two of my worlds.

Post-briefing, I checked Atti, settled him in with a warmer blanket and more hay, packed the last few things in my crew bag — all I needed to add was my food/lunch in the morning — then retired to the comfy sofa bed Claire had offered. (My endurance family spoils me.)

As typical for pre-ride nights, sleep was a little bit elusive, and I felt like I drifted in and out all night, but at some point, I must have fallen asleep, because I was rudely awoken by my 4am “get up and feed Atti” alarm. Crawled out of bed, loaded him up with some more hay and a dose of electrolytes, put my riding clothes on…and then crawled back into bed for another hour. By 5:15, I was fully up, mainlining my precious cup of coffee (ride mornings, I reluctantly limit my caffeine-addicted self to one cup) and stuffing in some breakfast before doing my final crew bag last-minute packing and hauling it over to the truck that would take it to the vet checks. This ride is one of the few remaining “single loop” courses, so all the vet checks are out  along the trail and you don’t come back to camp until the finish.

img_9619.jpg

ride map

Atti was saddled, and my butt was in the saddle a good 20 minutes before the start, checking in with ride management, and giving Atti some warm-up time. He was really “up” for him — this ride is very high energy at the start, with an en masse shotgun start of horses and runners all taking off, in and out of a rocky wash and then up a wide, gentle uphill grade. “Wild” is often the kindest way to describe the annual start line antics, and it can set off even the best-behaved horses. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see Atti transform into a bit of a “I’m Superman, let me fly” attitude.

IMG_9685

pre-start…he’s the cutest little guy

My friend Taylor and I had made plans to at least start together for some moral support and “don’t let me die” safety in numbers. We ended up going out a couple minutes after everyone else, dealt with some shenanigans for the first half-mile or so, and then it was smooth sailing, and by the time we hit a few miles in, both boys were cruising along.

The first 9 miles is a pretty smooth cruise — a few miles of sand wash, some gentle rolling hills, mostly double-track road through grassy plains. At mile 9, the trail changes to single-track, and more of the climbing starts. “The Grapevine” dips in and out of a sandy/rocky streambed at the bottom of a canyon, and it’s one of my favorite sections of trail, especially on a handy little mountain goat. We traded off leading for a bit, then put Atti in the lead, and he scampered through this section. He’s surefooted and nimble, and flies over narrow single-track without batting an eye. After a few miles, the trail turns out of the streambed and starts climbing, up through stands of manzanita and scrub oak, and opens up to views out towards Prescott Valley and Prescott beyond.

On the way up to the vet check, we saw photographers Susan and John Kordish, who got fantastic pics as always.

2019-ManVHorse-0399

photo by Susan Kordish

In to vet check 1 right about 9, which was absolutely perfect and right on track with my rough internal timeclock I had in mind for ride times/goals. Atti took a big drink when we got in, and was pulsed down by the time he finished drinking. I had an absolutely lovely surprise coming into the check — Claire was waiting to crew for me! Troy had already come in to the check, and left just before I came in, and Claire stayed to give me a hand. Like I said, I’m so spoiled, and very thankful…I was not expecting crew at all, and it was delightful to have an extra set of hands, or to be able to hand his reins over and briefly sit down and take care of myself for a few minutes.

IMG_9630

super-flattering mid-shake…which he also likes to do under saddle

Atti’s vet scores were good — a couple of Bs on hydration parameters, but everything else As, and he’d been drinking well so far. Before heading out, I switched him over to his hackamore, electrolyted him, mounted up and we were out of there right on time. The next section of the ride is a lot of forest roads. A couple miles of some interesting quasi-cross-country  and some zippy little single-track bits, but for the most part, lots of lots of dirt road. The longest stretch is about a 9-mile section. It’s very rocky, tends to be slow-going, and a very good section of trail to share with a buddy. Atti and Taylor’s gelding Mouss were still pacing well together, so our plan was to stick together as long as the boys were happy, and it really took the potential doldrums out of this section. Sure, we whined about the rocks, but did a lot of laughing, and I’m pretty sure we chatted non-stop for a solid 48 out of 50 miles.

The “highlight” of the 50 is the climb up Mingus Mountain to vet check 2 — a roughly 1800′ elevation gain in about 3 miles, on single-rack that can have some steep, technical, or steep and technical sections. Before starting the climb, we paused for a few minutes at the checkpoint and water stop strategically placed just before it. There was some fresh green mountain grass growing, enough for some good grazing time and fortification before tackling the climb.

It starts innocuous enough. Narrow singletrack, but a gradual grade. And then it turns interesting real quick, with some sharp turns and steep step-ups. I hopped off Atti on a couple of sections to give him a break — at 13.3, he’s not a big guy, and I’m about 20 pounds more than what he’s used to carrying, so I was doing everything I could to make it easier for him. We were also at about 6000′ elevation at that point, so that’s always super-fun for this flatlander desert rat to try to breathe and hike up a climb at the same time.

IMG_9649

before the tough climbing started

Fortunately the climb levels out partway through, so there’s a chance for some easy walking recovery before the second part of the climb, and a ton of grass growing along the trail, so Atti worked diligently on perfecting his grab-n-go grazing skills. The second part of the climb also has some interesting “rock stairstep” sections that are a little technical, so I hopped off again, lead through a couple of them, then let Atti go ahead and tailed off of him for some of the steeper uphill climbing portions. Finally, after a few more switchbacks, we reached the top of the mountain. It was about a mile of easy forest road into the check, and after walking/climbing that much, it felt really good to let him out and easy trot down the road.

IMG_9653

about halfway there — we’re heading to the top where all the trees are. this is my favorite photo spot because the leaves are always starting to change.

Coming into the check, I hopped off and walked the last little bit in, let him drink (and drink, and drink) and by the time he was done, he was pulsed down. We were in a little before 1, so still right within the time frame I had expected, especially given how rocky the trail was this year. Claire and Taylor’s mom Luci had set up our crew bags for us in a nice spot, and after getting Atti settled in front of his hay and pan of grain, I just plopped myself right down on the ground next to him and proceeded to tuck into my own lunch.

There had been a line for the vet when we first came in and pulsed down, so I gave Atti some time to eat first, and once the vet line cleared up, headed over for our check. Again, some Bs on hydration parameters, but all As everywhere else and vet said he looked great. We still had a bit of time before our out-time, so back in front of the food for both of us for a few more minutes before wrapping up the crew bag, electrolyting, and mounting up.

2019-ManVHorse-1048

photo by Susan Kordish

Heading out from the check, the first couple miles of trail is lovely — single track, weaving through the pine trees. I even ended up flushing a flock of wild hen turkeys out — came around a corner and started up a climb and saw about half a dozen of them on the trail ahead of me. As soon as they saw us, they headed up the hill further, and wow, can they move fast. But that was super cool, as it was my first time seeing turkeys in the wild here in AZ.

thumbnail_IMG_9659

turkeys! I promise, they’re there (circled in pink)

Shortly thereafter, the trail kind of degenerated into a bit of a singletrack rock pile. What used to be this smooth-flowing, slightly downhill trail that you could just fly down has gotten super-rocky, to where it’s impossible to really make time on. At that point, I hopped off and started hiking, with Atti trucking along cheerfully behind me. (Cristina runs and hike with him all the time, so on singletrack trails, you can clip your reins to the saddle and take off in the lead, and he’ll follow right along behind.) I know it was probably only a couple of miles, but it felt longer, and it was a major relief to pop back out to one of the checkpoints we had gone through earlier, back out onto forest road. It may be road, but we could finally move out again! Both boys were more than happy to make up some time here and kicked into a trot, then canter. We were able to make pretty short work of the several miles of road between checkpoints before hopping onto another singletrack trail. Fortunately, this one was in better shape, and aside from slowing for a few sections of rocks early on, we were able to make much better time.

That singletrack spit us back out onto another forest road, right before the last vet check — a pulse and go style of check. We brought them in nice and easy, let them drink, both pulsed down and trotted out for the vet, and then they sent us on our way — only 7 miles to the finish, and literally all downhill from here. Another rocky section of trail put from the check, and then we were on one of my favorite trail sections. It’s smooth singletrack, and it switchbacks down the side of a canyon, all the way down to the bottom. It’s really trottable, and super fun on a nimble horse. Atti knows this trail really well, and he flew down it. By the time we reached the bottom, both boys were firmly in “going home” mode, and it took absolutely no encouragement to keep them moving. There’s another bit of road section, and then the last two miles from camp heads across open pasture, into a wash, and then back into open pasture, following cow paths right back into camp.  I’m pretty sure Atti would have galloped in if I let him, but I kept him to a smart trot the whole way in, and we crossed the finish line right at 5:15 pm.

After he tanked up at the finish line water trough, we vetted through right away, my heart in my throat the whole time after my finish line pull at this ride in 2017. But no worries this time — Atti trotted out beautifully, good scores, and we were officially finished! Took him back to the trailer and got him untacked, wrapped legs, tucked into a fleecy cooler, and settled him in front of a huge pile of hay.

IMG_9669

Finished! Sound, happy pone and tired, happy rider.

I had perfect timing — once Atti was all taken care of, it was just in time for ride dinner and awards. For all 50-mile finishers, they hand out beautiful buckles. I earned my first buckle at this ride in 2009 on Mimi, and now my second one a decade later.

thumbnail_59208093107__79fbad3f-8fb2-4038-97b9-bd7322f3962a.jpg

By the time awards wrapped up, it was getting late enough I decided to stay in camp for the night rather than tackle the 2-hour drive home…and I had the sofa bed and a hot shower on offer again, so I spent the rest of the evening talking horses, ride strategy, AERC politics, and more horses with Troy and Claire.

Atti was bright-eyed and still talking to me the following morning, and looked good when I took him for a leg stretch first thing. He was also quite happy to be clean-up crew for the extra grain as I worked on cleaning out my crew bag and getting camp packed up. It didn’t take too long to get everything in order, load up, say good-byes, and head down the road. Dropped off Atti and the trailer, got him settled, then headed back down to the Valley.

This year has been light on the ride happenings for me, with a lot of ups and downs in regards to plans and horses, so it felt really good to get this one on the books and have it be so successful, and I’m grateful to Cristina for once again entrusting me with her special pony.

2019-ManVHorse-0413

photo by John Kordish

Crewing Tevis 2019

This year, I was actually pretty “waffle-y” on whether I was going to go to Tevis or not.  Earlier in the summer, I was pretty set on the idea that I wasn’t going. I’d had a taste for riding it the previous year, had fallen short, and although I hadn’t had high expectations for the day…it still stung, and I was battling back a lot of “if I can’t ride, I don’t want to go” feelings.

Well, that lasted until my friend Cathy messaged me, wondering if I possibly had any Tevis plans, and if I didn’t, if there was a possibility I might be interested in crewing. She’d asked me several previous years, but I was always otherwise committed to someone else, but this year, the way the cards ended up falling for various and sundry people, I was still un-booked when she contacted me. It was also a nice way to return the favor of her taking me with her and providing horses for the Tevis Ed Ride a couple years ago.

IMG_9066

Flying in over Lake Tahoe

I flew in to Sacramento early Friday morning, accompanied by ride-and-run buddy Cristina, who would be crewing for Lucy, riding Andrea’s Mustang mare Lilly (from my Virginia City adventure). I had just enough time to pick up the rental car (actually, a small Nissan Frontier truck that proved to be the perfect crew vehicle) before swinging back to the airport terminal to pick up Cathy’s husband Tim, the second half of Cathy’s crew duo.

From there, it was a (fairly) straight shot up I-80 to Robie Park, and two-and-a-half hourse later (with the last half hour being the road into Robie Park…every year, I forget how long it really take to get off the main road and all the way back in to camp), we were pulling up to Cathy’s rig.

IMG_9074

Cathy’s mare, OT Dymonite RSI

Cathy was already super-organized, with all of the crew gear packed and ready to go, so we spent some time going over where everything was and what needed to go where, then got Dymonite cleaned up and headed over to vet in.

 

This year, Tevis was doing a research study on dehydration/weight loss — the same type of study as I participated in at Virginia City — and I have to say, I much prefer the “walk the horse on the scale, get weight, move on” format of study than some of the prior years of pokey needles and blood draws. Much faster, and much less fuss from the majority of the horses.

Dy vetted in very well (very full of herself…super-attached to Stephanie’s gelding Ash, and wanted to know where he was at all times), then we headed back up to the trailer where we tacked Dy up so I could know how all of her gear went on, then I hopped on and headed out with Steph for a pre-ride to the start and down the first few miles of the trail.

IMG_9099

Practicing? One day, this photo will be for real, on my own horse. But for now, other people’s horses and crew-bonus pre-rides will suffice.

It was lovely to see the trail in the daylight. I loved it last year in the early dawn light, but it was just as pretty to see all the greenery and the spectacular mountain views along the way.

IMG_9106

The goal of the pre-ride was to do a slow-release of the pressure cooker…mostly walking, bit of trotting, and to try to bleed off some of the “I’ve been chowing down on extra mashes and have more energy than I know what to do with” sillies. Mission accomplished by the time we got back.

Cathy made a late lunch/early dinner, then I went wandering around camp for my social networking hour, touching base with as many of my friends who were there as I could find. It was a really good reminder of the “this is why I do this” social aspect of the sport — even a simple hug and 10 minutes of talking with someone makes me feel really good, and makes me remember that doing the introverted hermit routine for too long isn’t actually a great long-term approach to life.

When it comes to ride briefing, I have to say, I appreciate how much information they can impart in a relatively short period of time. Helps that so much of the information is published ahead of time, and the briefing really just reiterates the critical parts, or last-minute things that may have changed.

Because we had everything packed up and ready to go, including all crew bags (Cathy’s and Steph’s — part of her crew were carpooling up to Robinson Flat with me and helping schlep all the stuff) packed into the back of the truck, it was actually really easy to grab an early bedtime, which has been pretty much unheard of for me in the past. Of course, that doesn’t mean I actually slept…but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Dark and early Saturday morning rolled around all too soon, and it was a quick enough process to roll out of bed, out of the trailer, and fetch Dymonite and start tacking her up and Cathy got herself ready. Once Cathy was on the horse and heading to the start, we did the crew “stand around and wait” for the magic hour of 5:30, when engines can be started and vehicles are clear to leave Robie Park.

It’s actually been a number of years (2014, I think?) since I last did the trailer convoy out of Robie, and I had forgotten about the spectacular levels of dust that happen on that drive. Forget seeing the actual road…I pretty much just followed the taillights of the trailer in front of me, because I figured if a big rig could make it though, the little truck would be fine. And it was.

Once free of the twisty-turny dust cloud and out onto the main road, that little truck just flew down I-80, back towards Auburn. I really, really enjoy this drive — it’s super scenic, and it’s just a fun road to drive, both 80, and the drive into Foresthill and beyond into Robinson Flat.

I just barely made it into the last batch of vehicles allowed to drive up to RF (they close it when the first horses start coming in, and while the published “close time” is usually 9 or 9:30, a lot of it depends on exactly how fast the frontrunners are going. It was a cooler weather day, so the times were faster. I think I got to the Sailor Flat parking point about 8:40, and they only allowed like 3 other cars in behind me. Nice thing about that was being able to drive right up into the check, dump Steph’s crew and all our stuff, and then drive partway down (ended up being about 3/4 of a mile away, so I was definitely getting my exercise over the whole weekend) and park the truck before walking back up to the check.

I had managed to find a good spot up near the out-timer, although there ended up being quite a few little sticky weed things — not pokey-jabby type, but persistent in sticking to fabric. Slightly annoying, and possibly why that area was still relatively unoccupied. Ah well, live and learn. That was my first time that high up at RF — I’ve usually been able to snag spots closer down towards the vet check.

I got everything set up for Cathy and Dymonite, then made my way out to Soda Springs Rd with the crew cart to wait for Tim (who had driven the trailer, parked it at Foresthill, then grabbed a ride up with the other part of Steph’s crew) and watch riders come in.

This is the spectator part of Tevis that I really enjoy — seeing riders come in, following the webcast, being in the know of what’s happening. When you’re riding, you kind of miss a lot of what’s happening with the rest of the ride.

We were expecting Cathy a little after 11, based on the time she left Red Star, and she rolled in right on time. I was a little concerned at first of how well a two-person crew might work or not (used to having at least three of us) but it went really smoothly. I pulled the saddle and dumped it into the cart, then Tim took schlepping duties while I followed Cathy and Dymonite down the road, holding the mash pan for the hungry-hippo mare. Five gold stars to Dymonite for being the best multi-tasking hoover I’ve ever crewed for — she could consistently slurp mash while walking, and not faceplant. Very effecient, and by the time we were to the vet, she had consumed most of a pan of mash.

Cathy had me do her trot-out, and we got a “very nice” comment from the vet. (Thank you, years of halter and showmanship classes.) All A’s across the board, and she still couldn’t get enough of her mash, hoovering her way through her mash pan even as we walked back to our crew spot.

IMG_9127

This inadvertently made the best crew shirt ever. Limited edition shirt from Flik Equestrian.

The rest of the hour-long hold time went really smoothly, and I had Cathy waiting at the out-timer two minutes before her out-time.

IMG_9134

And away they go! 36 miles down, 64 to go…

With Cathy on her way, we wrapped up the crew spot and headed back down to the truck, then zoomed back down the road to Foresthill. From here, we had several hours of downtime and waiting. I got everything set up and ready for the Foresthill check, then hung out on Bath Rd for a bit to watch the front-runners come in before then heading back out to meet Cathy at the Chicken Hawk vet check.

Although it’s only 4 miles out from Foresthill, Ch can be a good place to station a crew-person…horses and riders both come into this check looking a bit tattered around the edges, and having that extra hand to take the horse, cool them off, and trot them out can be a big mental boost to the rider. I know it was definitely worth it for me to make the trek in and out — you can’t park at the check, you have to park out on the road and hike in about a mile, give or take. (It’s probably a bit less than a mile, based on my time out of there — I made it back to the truck in 8 minutes, with a combo of running and walking, and I’m no 8-minute-miler.) And then it’s a close enough drive back to FH that unless you have a rider who decides to absolutely fly through Volcano Canyon, you can still make it back to FH in time to be on Bath Rd, waiting for your rider.

There was a bit of confusion and flurry of activity as Cathy came in to Foresthill — a couple volunteers had been mistakenly telling people the cutoff time was 8pm, rather than the actual 8:45, so it ended up creating a stampede of riders rushing in, all at the same time, and having times that were super-clustered together…which later had repercussions further down the trail as far as congestion, trail sharing, and quantities of dust.

Dymonite was already pulsed down by the time we got to the pulse-takers, so we were able to pulse right in and hustle over to the vet line. It took a couple of minutes to wait for the vets, but Dy was hoovering another mash, so it was time well spent for her to eat. I did her trot-out again, and she got another “looks good” comment.

Because I had taken some time earlier in the afternoon to get everything ready to go, it was fairly short work to get Cathy’s saddle refilled with waters/snacks while Dymonite kept on stuffing in the food.

IMG_9153

Waiting at the Foresthill out-timer

Once again, I had her at the out-timer a few minutes early, and we waved Cathy off into the night before hustling back to the trailer, cleaning everything up, and booking it back down to the Fairgrounds.

Since Cathy had a stall, we didn’t have to deal too much with parking troubles, although the stall assignments ended up being a bit upside-down and super confusing. At the end of the day, we had a stall for the horse, but there was definitely some extra dramatics involved. Ah, well, got to have one thing at Tevis that makes you a bit crazy, right?

Crew truck again came in super-handy to load up everything for the stall, drive over to the stalls from the parking lot, get the stall set up, and then drive back to the trailer. I had a pretty good idea of the kind of timing schedule Cathy was following, and we expected her back no earlier than 4…which meant there was actually several hours of downtime to be able to sleep…novel concept! Normally I get caught up in watching people come in to the stadium, but this year, the draw of sleep won out, and I was able to snag several hours in there before waking up to check the webcast, realize I still had some time, grab a bit more sleep, and then finally get up, grab the cart, drop it at the stadium, then head over to the actual timed finish line.

IMG_9164

Finished!

Nail biting minute by nail biting minute I waited, watching as other friends and people I knew crossed the line…then finally, the distinctive red and yellow glowbar pattern I had attached to Dymonite’s breastcollar appeared from out of the trees, and they crossed the finish line at 5:02am, the last pair across the line.

Dy was still super-strong, and hustled her way down to the stadium, then looked downright perky on her victory lap, bouncing into a cheerful trot and charging under the finish banner. I quickly yanked her saddle off, then we hustled over to the vet area for the final vetting. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait at all, and Dy needed to extra encouragement from me on her final trot-out. Vet Mike Peralez (who I know from way back in my NATRC days), did their final vetting, and it’s always the highest compliment to get a “very nice job” comment from him on the trot-out. She passed with flying colors, and several positive comments, and then they were done! Tim bundled Cathy off to the trailer to bed (she was very sore after coming off Dy on Cal Loop after a loose horse knocked into them and knocked Cathy off Dy, and she was definitely feeling the effects of that, so I insisted she go lay down while I finished taking care of Dy), and I took Dy back up to the barn so she could start in on another mash while I wrapped her legs before taking her back down to the stadium for the post-completion wellness check, done 1-2 hours after finishing.

Once she was all checked out, and settled into her stall with plenty of fluffy shavings, I meandered my way back to the trailer, stopping to catch up with some friends along the way. Back at the trailer, I caught Cathy (who still hadn’t gone to sleep) up on the ride happenings, then crashed for another couple of hours until the sun was up enough to start warming it up a bit in the trailer.

I didn’t end up watching Haggin Cup presentations…got up fairly close to the time it started, and the need for a shower won out over everything else. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with socializing, as I wandered over to the awards banquet area, got caught up with several friends, then enjoyed the offerings of the awards meal spread, a bit more socializing, checking on Dymonite, and then finally wrapping up and heading to the airport. I typically don’t sleep well on planes, but I was out pretty much as soon as my butt hit the plane seat, and didn’t wake up until we started the final descent into Phoenix.

So, a short, very full Tevis weekend this year, but very fulfilling, and always thrilling to have my rider finish. This was my “Decade Crew” year, and I couldn’t be more tickled for how well Cathy and Dymonite did…and it was Dy’s first 100. Great rider, great horse. Always really good to see my endurance tribe, to celebrate with those who finished, and commiserate with those who didn’t. Tevis is a ride like none other, whether you’re riding it or crewing it. It gets under your skin and in your blood, and I don’t ever regret being a part of it.

Riding Log Corral

IMG_8492

It’s not very often I get a chance to ride mid-week — a self-imposed reality, since if I’m not working, I’m not making $. But when Stephanie asked if I might be available to come ride her horse Ash on a training ride at the Log Corral trail, I didn’t have to think about that very long. I’ve been taking on some extra work of late (by choice) in the form of some weekend jobs with my dad in his carpet cleaning business, and then working on my Masterson Method fieldwork and subsequent session write-ups “homework.” And my mental state was telling me I really needed to take a day, or at least part of a day.

The Log Corral trail is also one I’ve been wanting to ride for a really long time now — it’s a popular training spot for a number of people I know, and for good reason. It’s an 18-mile round trip, an out-and-back that starts at a trailhead/parking area just off a highway, and follows a 4×4 road all the way to the east side of Bartlett Lake…a gradual 5 mile climb to the high point, and then a 4-mile descent down to the lake…then turn around and reverse that. The first mile or so out from the trailhead is a bit rocky, as it winds through a creek bed, but once on the actual Log Corral Trail, it’s lovely, decomposed granite footing the whole way to the lake. So the chance to finally ride that trail (and get the all-important GPS tracks of it for future reference) was something I really didn’t want to pass up.

IMG_8493

Ash, meet Ash. That sure simplifies things when you and the horse share a name.

It’s a fabulous trail, a hidden gem and oasis in the desert, with the bonus of having the lake as the turnaround point. Apparently that part of the lake is also swimmable, so word on the street is “bring swimwear” next time.

Ash was a lovely ride — super experienced, and very well trained (dressage background), so it was really fun to figure out all the buttons he has installed. (Methinks dressage lessons will be in the cards with any future ponies, because I am loving riding these horses that have previous dressage training. Leg yields and half halts all day long.)

IMG_8478

Skeptical of the lake. It was breezy, and creating tiny little waves coming at us, which he wasn’t wild about. Not exactly uncommon when it comes to horses vs waves.

IMG_8490

Go on, tell me my desert is dry, brown, and boring. Oh, and that “Arizona doesn’t have trees.”

IMG_8484

Desert Oasis. There were a couple of stream crossings, plus the lake, so lots of opportunities for the horses to drink.

I was really glad I broke my usual routine and took advantage of the offered opportunity. Great ride with good friends on a good horse…that was exactly the mental health day I needed this past week.

IMG_8494

2018 Year-In-Review

This year, I don’t think I did quite as much blogging about the “in-between” elements of life. Covered the big events, and managed to maintain my “at least one post a month” streak I’ve had going since August 2011. But I think a lot more of the day-to-day stuff ended up on Facebook or Instagram, so some of life’s happenings might briefly get covered for the first time here in my year-in-review.

2018 ended up being a pretty epic year, riding-wise.

  • Number of rides: 7 (technically one falls into the 2019 ride season, but the 2018 calendar year)
  • Number of completions: 4 (215 miles)
  • Number of horses ridden: 4
  • One mileage milestone patch attained (750 endurance miles)

January

Looking back, I have to chuckle at what I said in my first post of the year:

“I’m inclined to do the same approach this year — take things as they come, say “yes” to as many opportunities as is feasible, and stay flexible.

I’m just planning one ride at a time and we’ll see what the season has in store.”

Even after I said that, I never could have predicted that the rest of the season would bring, and the opportunities that would present themselves.

26114014_10109042908440891_7597642950898523369_n

I managed to do stuff with all three of my girls — two pups, one pony — and spent quite a bit of trail time hiking and trail running this month.

Later in the month, Junior and I attempted the inaugural Tonto Twist 50 ride. We were pulled for a subtle but consistent lameness after the first 30-mile loop, but in spite of that (and getting rained on), I still loved the ride, the scenery, and the trails. It was one of the few times I’ve done a ride on my own, which was kind of a fun and different change of pace and perspective. That said, a big part of endurance for me is the “togetherness” aspect of doing rides either with Dad, or with endurance friends, because this is my major social network.

I wrapped up the month with more trail outings, including taking Rocco out again for an evening training ride. I’ve also had the chance to expand on some more local endurance friendships in my own age group after figuring out that Taylor lives not too far away from me, so that’s been fun to build a closer-in network.

February

I played with other people’s ponies, spent several days up at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, and finally, traveled down to Florida to the FITS ride at the end of the month for work, where I managed to sneak in a little training ride and experience the Florida trails.

And I can’t let the month go by without recognizing Arizona’s statehood day (Feb 14th) and doing a bit of state love. (That said, I should probably stop doing such a good job of promoting my state and start talking more about the 115* summers. Maybe that will get people to stop moving here.)

March

I had way too much fun at the AERC Convention, with the highlight, of course, of winning the Tevis entry raffle drawing. I love Convention, especially when it’s in Reno, and consider it one of the highlights of my year, and probably my favorite thing for work.

The end of the month also featured running the Renegade booth again at The Mane Event — semi-local, only half an hour away in Scottsdale. I was able to get Dad to help me out again for that, and it also gave me a chance to see some preliminary Masterson Method intro seminars (and go down and participate in one at the very end of the last expo day).

April

The standout highlight for this month was meeting Flash and doing the Bumble Bee ride on him. Remember back in January when I said that my plan was to say “yes” to as many opportunities as possible? Well, saying yes to that initial catch ride offer was one of my better life decisions, and it lead to multiple opportunities over the entire year — and still continues to do so.

I was happy with just breaking my Bumble Bee “curse” and finishing the ride — 3rd place and High Vet Score was an unexpected bonus, as was just how well I got along with Flash, and how much he had stolen my heart by the end of the weekend.

On the canine front, Artemis had to go in for tooth extraction surgery — she had cracked it the previous year, and we had put a temporary patch on it, but that didn’t last and eventually she started having some issues with a localized swelling on her face indicating an abscess was likely forming. (Lower right-hand photo is a post-surgery, still-slightly-stoned puppy.) Sofie also had way too much fun enjoying the spring weather, and rolling in the dead baby birds that would end up in the yard after falling out of their nests. #FarmdogLife

I also counted up and celebrated all of the numbers of ears that I’ve viewed the trail through over the years. (I’ve competed on over a dozen different horses just in endurance alone, and ridden over 80 different ones in my lifetime.)

May

Mimi’s birthday month! She turned 25, and I spent some time musing on random factoids about her. She also got to get out and be a demo pony at another local expo — my live model for hoof trimming and boot fitting.

June

I got Mimi out and around the neighborhood to explore, I completed the first seminar towards certification in the Masterson Method equine massage, my truck’s transmission had to get rebuilt (but 224k miles on the original, so I really can’t complain), and I finalized my Tevis plans and sent in my entry.

I wrapped up the month by doing two days at the Strawberry Fields Forever ride with Flash. This ride has been on my bucket list for years now, and it did not disappoint. Day one brought some good learning experiences when Flash thumped at lunch and we were pulled, thus verifying that Flash really does need a fairly aggressive electrolyte protocol, but he was good to go for day 2, and we finished that 55 miles in fine style.

July

I’m pretty sure things happened this month, but my brain was all about one thing: Tevis.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to pull at Robinson Flat — in spite of all my “realistic” outlook, there was a tiny part of me that dreamed we might be able to pull off something unexpected. But I was still really glad for the experience, and glad I was at least able to finally start the ride I’ve dreamed of for so many years. And I’m grateful to Lucy sharing Roo with me and making sure I could get to the start line and make use of that raffle entry.

August

No rest for the wicked — I came home from Tevis and kept on rolling, getting in more saddle time on both Mimi as well as friends’ horses. I also had an article I wrote on catch riding appear in this month’s issue of Endurance News, which was pretty awesome. I’ve had a couple of things get put into the online quarterly newsletter, but to have it in the hard copy print main magazine is extra-special.

At the end of the month, I headed up to the Grand Canyon XP ride to ride the first day. “Nene” was a fun ride and I was proud to take her through her very first ride and have her finish so well.

September

Artemis turned 5, and I actually spent a lot of time playing with Mimi this month. I also got convinced to throw my hat into the ring for the AERC Director-At-Large elections that would be taking place in the fall. (Spoiler alert for December: I didn’t get elected…THIS time. But I’m not going away. And next DAL elections will be in 2020.)

October

October is a busy month for me, animals-wise. It’s Sofie’s birthday (she turned 7), Sofie’s Gotcha Day (3 years with me), and Mimi’s Gotcha Day (22 years). We got quite a bit of delayed monsoon activity showing up this month, so it made for some spectacular sunrises/sunsets, and some arena water obstacles for the unamused pony.

I also went to Reno for the Pacific Hoofcare Practitioner’s Conference, which was an excellent networking and learning experience.

I reached a mileage milestone of a combined 1000 miles with the ride completion at Grand Canyon, so did a bit of musing about the journey to get to that point. I also attempted to narrow down my favorite rides.

November

Early in the month, I volunteered at the McDowell ride. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done any volunteering stints, and I enjoy being able to give back to the sport. It was a really fun way to spend time in camp and actually get to hang out with some of my endurance family, which doesn’t happen as much when I’m out on the trail all day.

It was Artemis’s Gotcha Day (5 years!), time for annual AERC membership renewal, and a hilarious moment of Mimi being absolutely fascinated with watching the water filling up one of the irrigation canals by the barn.

I mused on 100-milers, and how even though I haven’t completed the two I’ve attempted, I’m still hooked on the idea of them. I don’t know when the next chance at one will be, but maybe third time’s a charm?

I spent Thanksgiving weekend up in Utah with my best friend, and we had a really fun girl’s weekend of cooking, seeing Christmas lights, and doing a “Middle Earth marathon” of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. It also snowed while I was up there, so I got my annual fix of the fluffy white stuff.

December

I started the month off in the best way I know how — with a ride! I was able to ride Flash in the inaugural Dashing Through the Trails ride at Estrella Mountain Park, and since it is technically the 2019 ride season, our finish there kicked off the new ride season in fine fashion.

Finally, I started off what I’m calling the “four-day Christmas weekend” with a wonderful gift — taking Mimi out on the trails. This year, I did a pretty dismal job of getting her out aside from arena work or around the barn, so it was a special treat for both of us to hit our old familiar San Tan Park stomping grounds. I will forever love her, not because she’s perfect — because she’s definitely not — but rather because of how perfect she’s been for me. She made me laugh so much during the ride because even at 25 years old, she still thinks jigging is a legitimate response…and riding her in a snaffle on trail is still a dumb idea. But in spite of her shenanigans, I still have that invaluable feeling of safety and security on her back. And settling into her saddle is always like coming home.

With that, I’m calling it a wrap on 2018 — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! This has been an incredible year, and I can’t issue enough thank yous to all of the friends and endurance family that made this ride season happen for me.

Bloghop: Favorites of 2018

This one is courtesy of The $900 Facebook Pony and I thought it was a great way to do a brief, photographic summary of the year while I work on my more detailed year-in-review post.

Only rules on this one are there has to be accompanying media (photo, video, gif, etc) for each category.

Favorite Show Ride Picture

thumbnail_LowResAshleyWingert-7130

The ultimate Cougar Rock picture, of course. The photo makes it look so much more dramatic than I felt it was in reality, but that’s the beauty of a good photo…captures more of the moment than what you might have otherwise even realized.

Also, this is just such an iconic photo that is so representative of what endurance is to me. It reminds me of what I’ve worked for over the years, but also that the journey is not a finite point — this is but one goal along the way, with so many more still to come.

Favorite Non-Show Ride Picture

34342321_10109627021443751_1219247477673164800_n

That’s hard, because so much of my media is taken at rides, so I have virtually nothing of me riding here at home. But I love how this one came out, and it reminds me of probably one of the best “around the barn” rides I’ve had on Mimi.

Favorite Thing You Bought

34962365_10109654928143501_4676909288705228800_n

My equine-related purchases were actually pretty light this year, so I would have to say spending the $ to attend the first step towards my Masterson Method massage certification would probably qualify. Just learning the basics was really valuable, no matter what, and since this is going towards one of my big life goals, I’d consider it a pretty big deal.

Favorite Moment on Horseback

IMG_2688

Climbing on Flash for the first time. Mounting a horse I’ve never ridden before for the first time is probably one of the scariest moments for me. Between ones that have bronc’d me, or tried to, or the ones you just have to “get in the saddle and go” because they’re a bundle of nerves or energy, I’m always somewhat apprehensive of what I’ll be getting into, and there are only a handful of horses I’ve been able to mount up and feel instantly relaxed. This was one of those times. I was expecting a high-energy, fire-breathing dragon, especially in the face of 40mph wind gusts…and what I got was calm, settled, polite, and the instant feeling of safety and security.

Favorite Moment Out of the Saddle

IMG_3638

Hanging out in camp at the Strawberry ride. Yummy food, good friends, a beautiful setting.

Favorite “Between the Ears” Picture

IMG_4281

This was a hard pick, because I’ve got half a dozen amazing ears photos from this year. But looking out at the Grand Canyon is a hard one to beat.

Favorite Horse Book or Article

51BXeoK4KWL._SX410_BO1,204,203,200_

This has been a fun thing for me to dabble with through the year, especially with Mimi. It gives us something “different” to do without being physically taxing for her.

Favorite Horse Ridden (or Groomed/Cared For) Aside From your Own

2018-Dashing Through The Trails-0153

Flash. Because that one wasn’t obvious at all.

Favorite Funny Picture of Your Horse

33126629_10109580496999111_9018200006015844352_n

Perfecting the Epic Opinionated Mare Face.

Favorite Fence That You Jumped or Movement That You Successfully Conquered
(Endurance Alternate: Successful Ride Moment)

76198096-2018-Bumble-Bee-1052

First time showing for Best Condition, and getting High Vet Score.

Favorite Horse Meme or Funny Picture

12011317_10205881057958187_442350312197188021_n

Ahem, Mimi. 25 years old and still trying to zoom down the trail.