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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

Favorite “Between the Ears” Picture

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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

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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

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

Favorite Funny Picture of Your Horse

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Perfecting the Epic Opinionated Mare Face.

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

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

Favorite Horse Meme or Funny Picture

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

Ride Story: Dashing Through the Trails 55

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photo: Cowgirl Photography, Susan Kordish

I can’t think of a better way to start off a new ride season than with a ride planned right away. Dashing Through the Trails is a brand-new ride for Arizona and the Southwest Region, held at the Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Phoenix, managed by Effee Conner and her family.

I have very fond memories of Estrella — while it’s not close enough to really be considered my “home” trails, I’ve done several NATRC rides there, and have used it for training grounds over the years, enough to at least have a familiarity with the trails.

I was able to partner up once again with Flash, which is always the icing on the ride cake whenever I get to ride him. He’s one of my favorite catch rides, I adore his opinionated self, and he’s given me the greatest gift of all — the return of my confidence and competence in the saddle. For that alone, he will forever have a place in my heart, and I am so grateful to Troy and Claire Eckard for sharing him with me on a regular basis.

Because Estrella is only an hour away from me, I was able to delay my packing until Friday morning (much to the happiness of the dogs, who pout and sulk whenever the bags come out and the stacks of ride clothes start forming), and not have to leave the house until late morning for a noon-time arrival.

The weather was supposed to be clear for the weekend, but it was raining when I woke up Friday morning, and continued with on and off clouds and then clearing for the remainder of the morning. Driving over to Estrella, all I could see were the mountains barely visible through the layers of clouds that kept persistently gathering around them. The ominous-looking storm cell just west of where I was heading wasn’t exactly an encouraging sight, either. I just kept reminding myself that ride day was supposed to be clear, and I had packed extra clothes and extra jackets just in case. (Advantage of a local ride I can drive to and use my truck as extra storage — don’t have to try to “pack light.”)

Fortunately, the only rain that materialized was about a dozen drops, and then the clouds cleared up for the rest of the afternoon. Troy arrived with the boys early afternoon, and it was quick work of getting camp set up and checking in.

Vetting in, on the other hand? That didn’t exactly go according to plan…

There was a window of opportunity where there was virtually no one in the vet line, so we quickly scuttled the boys over to go vet in. Flash was feeling kind of full of himself, since we hadn’t pre-ridden yet, and when we went to trot-out, he got distracted, temporarily forgot how many legs he had, and did some kind of fancy stumble-catch-flail moment. The vet didn’t love how he trotted out after that display — there was something “funky” in how he was moving — so she held our card and wanted to re-check us a bit later to see if we would be able to start.

Well, crap.

Back at the trailer, we found the culprit — clipped heel bulb. We washed it off, then just gave him some time to chill while waiting for the vet line to go get a bit less busy.

On the second go-round,  I kept his enthusiasm well under wraps (I’ve ridden a number of horses you have to really pump up to have them show well in hand…he is the exact opposite and needs no extra encouragement, and I have to remember that I do not need to all-out sprint with this guy), and we were given the all clear to start.

Whew, crisis averted. As a precaution, we cushioned and vet-wrapped the area, and put a bell boot on to help secure the wrap as well as provide an extra layer of protection from any rocks that might hit the area and make it sore.

After that, we were able to tack up and go out for a pre-ride for an hour or so. Flash gave me a few of his “I had a day off, so I’m going to be a dork” shenanigans, mostly in the form of “porpoise leaping” the “up” part of some down-and-up gulleys, but he’s so smooth and easy to stay with, it honestly just makes me laugh as I nudge him forward and remind him that forward, not up, is the ride plan. But this is why we pre-ride…so ride day itself will involve a limited number of antics.

Once we got back to camp, it was quick work to pack up a crew bag with everything we would need for the out vet check — a one-hour hold at 23 miles, and then a pulse-and-go at 40 miles — before the ride dinner and meeting. Hot spaghetti-n-meatballs tasted delicious as the sun went down, the wind picked up, and the temperatures dropped. (Granted, winter in the Valley means dropped “into the 40’s,” but for this solar-powered desert rat, that’s cold.)

Post-briefing, there was time for a bit of evening socializing before crawling off to bed to be up early for a 6:30 start (which means starting in the dark this time of year). I was actually even sleeping pretty well (for me, the night before a ride) until Flash made one last “do I really hafta go ride in the morning?” self-sabotage attempt that resulted in him managing to break his Hi-Tie line. No clue what he did, if he got caught or tangled on something, or what…but all body parts were intact, no blood, no scuffs, and appeared fully sound and functional…so he still wasn’t getting out of work that easy. Ah, well…it seems like there has to be at least one “bail out of bed in the middle of the night because of suspicious noises” wake-up call every year, and I was due for one. Good reminder, too, that I need to start bringing “fast to slip on” shoes/boots for nighttime, since fumbling around with shoelaces took way too much time.

I was kind of shocked I was able to go back to sleep after that, but I did, and clocked a few more hours before the alarm went off at 4:30. Early, yes, but I’ve found I do much better with being able to ease into the morning than being short on time and stressing. (I can actually eat breakfast when I have a solid 15 minutes to sit, uninterrupted, and slowly work my way through a cup of oatmeal, versus trying to gobble food on the go.)

One thing I’ve gotten much, much faster about in the last couple years is my morning tacking up routine. I used to be pretty slow, but somewhere along the way, I learned the art of the fast morning tack-up. Definitely helps to have everything ready to go the evening before — bottles filled and in the saddle, snacked packed, etc — so that it’s an easy enough thing to pull blankets, toss pad + saddle in place, fasten breastcollar, take a few minutes to convince Flash he does have to wear a bridle, then mount up and go. It also helps that this was my fourth ride with Flash, so I’ve been able to develop a bit of a routine with him and know generally what to expect and how much time to allot.

6:30, the trail was open, and since we had pre-ridden the start the day before and knew that it had some rocky sections, we just took our time and moseyed (as much as two fit, forward endurance horses will ever mosey) our way out.

Cresting the first rise out of camp, it was the most incredible sight. The rain the day before had created enough lingering moisture in the desert to produce an incredible overnight mist/fog layer that was blanketing the entire Valley, and creeping up into the mountains. From the ride, looking out towards the trail we would be traversing, the sun was just starting to lighten the horizon, everything was blanketed in a soft fog layer, early morning sunrise colors were starting to appear…

It was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever experienced on trail. I wish I could have captured it on camera, because it looked like something out of a fantasy epic (for any of my fellow Lord of the Rings fans out there, think Middle Earth, but with saguaros)…but at the same time, no quick iPhone photo snapped on the back of a dancing horse could possibly do justice to that sight. So it remains embedded in my brain, another beautiful, amazing, personal moment on the endurance trail.

The first 9 miles were a loop on one of the competitive track loops. We had been warned ahead of time that it was probably the overall rockiest section of the whole day, so we took our time and took it really easy over any of the rocky sections.

Towards the end of the loop, ride photographers Sue and John Kordish were waiting, and got some amazing ride photos.

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Flash is so photogenic, and he totally shows off for the camera. The “all four off the floor” moment above was after Troy told me, “put him in the lead and let him move out a bit.” Pretty sure that’s the point on my GPS where the speed pegged at 11mph. And the other photos? I love how soft and engaged he is. Collected, listening to me, and posing for the camera at the same time. And me? Well, I didn’t have to fake that smile.

Coming off the “mini loop” of the competitive track, we passed right through camp on the way to the next trail, so I took advantage of swinging by the rig to go to the bathroom, drop a jacket off, and grab a quick drink/snack on-the-go while the boys grabbed a few bites of hay at the trailer before we continued on.

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Exiting the ridecamp parking area to head to the next trail, which was up ahead in the big dirt lot. Some of the morning fog is still visible in the distance.

As promised, the trail after the competitive track was much smoother, and we were able to start picking up the pace and maintain it more consistently.

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Looking back at camp, and the fog layer that was still hanging around.

This section of the trail was totally new to me — a connector trail that made it possible to go between the competitive track area and the rest of the park. It was about 3 miles of mostly single-track, with a few ins-and-outs through small gullies and ditches, but it flowed really well and was a really fun section.

The trails at Estrella are a very “active” ride — they twist and turn, go up and down, have rocks, cactus to avoid — not much “down” time where you can just sit back and easily cruise, because on the smooth sections, you’re taking advantage of them and picking up the pace. But I also find those kinds of trails to be very interesting and engaging, and it definitely keeps my attention.

Continuing through the main park, we had all of the above…paying attention to where we could move out, dialing it back when we couldn’t. Going through one longer, smooth section of wide single track, I was able to do my first extended canter with Flash, and it was marvelous. He’s like riding a war horse — strong, collected, powerful canter that you’re pretty sure is some kind of throwback to a battle charge way back in his distant ancestry.

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Taking in the scenery before coming to another smooth section.

Our 1-hour vet hold was at 23 miles, and the boys were pulsed down as soon we arrived. There was a short line for the vet at that point, so it was easier to settled them in with some food first for a bit, and then take them over to vet (36/40 CRI, we’ll take it).

Although the boys try to use each other as itching posts, neither of them really tries too hard to wander away, so I could actually sit down during an away check without running constant vigilance on a constantly-trying-to-sneak-away-pony.

Sometimes holds go by really fast, and other times, I’m twiddling my thumbs…in this case, it was well-timed in that I got everything done, had time to eat, sit down for a bit, and still be at the out timer with a minute to spare.

Out onto loop 2, which was 17 miles and would bring us right back into the vet check area for a pulse-n-go check. There was definitely some rocky, slow-going sections, especially early on in the loop, but it was countered by a several mile section of a long, straightaway, not-too-deep, sandy wash. The kind of trail that just begs for a canter…so we did.

Chalk that one up to another Perfect Endurance Moment.

Historically, I am not brave, especially when it comes to cantering. It’s the gait I feel the least secure in, that if the horse decides to shy, or start bucking, I’ve got a greater chance of coming off. But Flash’s forwardness, bravery, and business-like attitude makes me brave. He’s not looking for things to shy at, or reasons/excuses to spook. He just wants to go forward and get down the trail…and that kind of boldness directly feeds back to me and allows me to do something like fearlessly canter a couple of miles across the desert, with the only thoughts in my head being the rhythmic sound of his hooves pounding the sand, the wind whistling past my ears, his steady snorting in sync with his hoofbeats. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been that in tune with a horse on the trail, and they’re moments I won’t ever forget.

All too soon, we ran out of beautiful trail, and it was back to the strategically-walk-and-trot approach…although as the ride continued on, we found our definition of what was “acceptable for trotting” to be a little less stringent than it had been earlier in the day, if we wanted to be able to make time and meet our goal of “finish in daylight.”

Looping back around, the last mile into the vet check was a large gravel road, perfect for moving out…and we made a bit of a strategic error. We trotted the whole way into the check, and kind of forgot it was a pulse down, not just a trot-by, so the boys came in a little high, and it took a few minutes to drop to parameters before we were cleared to go. Ah, well, it gave them a few minutes to eat some hay while we were waiting, and for me to fill bottles and grab a quick snack, so as soon as they were pulsed down, we were on our way again.

Loop 3 was basically a repeat of loop 2, with some sections cut off and replaced with alternate trails, and we would then head back into camp on the same connector trail we had taken into the park in the morning.

Flash was a complete angel for this third loop, especially when one of my ankles started pitching a screaming fit about 5 or 6 miles from the finish whenever we trotted (something about how the stirrup fender was torquing my leg and overly stretching the outside part of my ankle…but I have some ideas for how to address that the next time). That horse…oh, man. So many gold stars to him. He completely tolerated the fact I was somewhat off-balance, riding with more weight on my “good” side, and the vibe I got from him was “just hang on up there, I’ll get you home.” The worst was trying to trot down any slight downhill, since I had to brace more and put more weight on my ankles/feet to do that, and those last few miles, he seemed to be doing whatever he could to make sure he wasn’t pulling on me, or doing anything that made me have to brace any harder.

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Such a good boy. Reveling in the late afternoon setting sun, only a couple miles from finishing.

The last couple miles from camp, we just walked them in. It was so quiet out there — no riders behind us, no one close in front — it was like we had the desert all to ourselves. And despite wanting to cut my ankle off (although it was fine when we were walking, and I could just drop my foot out of the stirrup), there was a part of me that didn’t want such a magical, amazing ride to end.

We strolled the boys into camp, with Flash outwalking Rymoni by a head to come in 6th and 7th. I think our ride time is somewhere around 9:40ish…haven’t seen the official AERC results published yet, but that’s what I have on my GPS, and I turned it off a couple minutes after we were in.

That was a challenging, butt-kicker of a ride, and ponies and riders were all pretty whipped at the end. But we got it done, it was a heck of a way to start the season, and Troy reported that the boys looked great the following day. Can’t ask for more than that.

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Tired after finishing, but successful. I love this horse.

And that ride also put me at the milestone for my next mileage patch — 750 endurance miles.  Seems like an excellent way to start the season!

Dashing Through the Trails was a ton of fun — very well-managed, true mileage, and a definite “endurance” test. I don’t do this sport because it’s easy…I do it because it’s a challenge, because success isn’t guaranteed, because it’s always a learning experience, and because, for me, it is an incredible ground for creating an undefinable bond between horse and rider.

Finally, I have to thank Troy and Claire again — for sharing Flash and for mentoring me both on the trail and in the sport. You guys are a part of my endurance family, and I’m so grateful our paths crossed.