Ride Story: Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75

Now that is how to wrap up a ride season. In the words of one of my high school ROTC teachers, “Finish strong.” In a season that was all over the place with changes of plans, lots of unexpected happenings, and numerous highs and lows, it felt good to wrap up the year on a high note.

The cliffnotes version: Cristina asked me to ride Atti in the 75 at McDowell. It was his first 75 (mine, too) and we finished with a strong horse who was still pulling on me at the end, in 5th place with a ride time of 12:49, and a finish CRI of 52/48. He was a blast to ride, and was a total rockstar all day long.

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photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

The full-length novel version: Where do I even begin? After Virginia City, the plan was to go for the 75 at McDowell with Beeba — after all, we did 76 miles at VC, so McDowell should be doable, right? The pull at man Against Horse put the kibosh on that plan, and future endurance endeavors for her, and I went back to the drawing board. Not for very long, though, because the Monday after MAH, Cristina texted me to find out my availability for McDowell and if I wanted to take the younger horse she’s training, Cosmo, in the LD, while she took Atti, her more experienced horse, on their first 75.

Since I had nothing set in stone, she claimed first dibs on me, and I was happy to have offered what would likely be a fun, easy ride.

And then a couple weeks out from the ride, she asked if I might consider riding Atti in the 75 instead. Some of her personal plans had changed, and it worked better for her schedule to ride the LD…but she really wanted Atti to do the longer distance, especially given that 75s and 100s are in  short supply around here, so we have to take advantage of them when they’re offered.

Just to establish the significance of this offer: Atti is to Cristina what Mimi is to me. Super-special heart horses that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into. The level of trust and confidence she had in me to make that offer…I have a hard time putting into words just how much that meant to me.

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This adorable face was still perky and earnest 24+ hours later.

Friday afternoon, I stuffed the back of my suburban full of food, clothes, and camping gear, and made the quick, 45-minute drive up to McDowell. It’s currently my most local ride, and it’s really convenient. I got my little camp set up, and a space saved for Cristina to arrive with her rig and the ponies later that afternoon, then wandered around camp and socialized for the rest of the afternoon.

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Nasty little hitchhiker that was hanging out in my rolled up air mattress. Welcome to Arizona desert life.

Once Cristina arrived, we whisked the ponies off the trailer and immediately over to vet in  while it was still light and before dinner started.

Ride dinner was done Friday night before briefing…I’ve waffled back and forth on how I feel about this, since I do like a good ride awards dinner afterwards, and not having to cook after I’ve just been riding. But in this case, it was kind of nice to not have to meal plan, since dinner was provided Friday, and I would be riding through the dinner hour and living on a steady diet of pre-made sandwiches on Saturday.

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Ride day food: a selection of turkey/cheese, pb&j, and tuna. A wide variety for whatever my taste buds wanted at the time.

I’ve ridden the McDowell trails for so long (one of my home training grounds), and done the ride multiple times, so knowing the trails was a major strength for me going into the ride. The park itself has all of the trails marked/signed incredibly well, and the ride maps/directions are very thorough. Not only a makred map, but written turn-by-turn directions, plus ribbons, laminated signs, chalk lines, and glow sticks out on the trails.

After briefing I did some last minute tack fiddling, switching out stirrups and adding a mini cantle pack to be able to carry electrolytes and carrots, and mixing up a bottle of said electrolytes.

Sleep didn’t come easy for me Friday night. As always, first night camping/staying anywhere is always more restless, and the back of the suburban is surprisingly not particularly soundproof, so I was hearing every noise and sound. Plus, being surrounded by windows makes it way too easy to always be looking out to see if the horse is still attached to the trailer, etc. I know I got some sleep, but woke up before my alarm was set to go ff, so used the time to just slowly start getting dressed and nibbling on some breakfast. My camp stove also picked this trip to stop working, so I had to suffer through the indignity of cold coffee to start my morning. (Which, funny enough, actually sat better than hot coffee does sometimes…)

This was probably the least nervous I’ve been at a ride start in a really long time. Atti reminds me so much of riding Mimi that I had the same comfort level with him as I do with her, and the same level of trust that a laundry list of shenanigans would not be forthcoming. He has the same kind of complete non-explosiveness/non-reactivity that Mimi does and I felt really relaxed and settled with him.

There were 12 starters in the 75, and since it was still dark for our 6AM start, we got a controlled start through the first couple of miles. There was a group of 5 of us that were sort of starting out together, but ended up spread out within the first few miles, and Atti and I found ourselves a nice little space bubble with Andrea and Lilly.

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Just before sunrise.

The first loop has the rockiest parts of the whole trail, but overall the course is practically a groomed racetrack, especially compared to the last two rides. Andrea also did Virginia City and Man Against Horse, so we were laughing at the “rocky” sections this time, and reveling in the luxury of being able to “walk the rocks.”

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A beautiful desert sunrise.

Part of the first loop trail is an out-and-back with a water stop and checkpoint about 10 miles in. We took a very quick break here — drink, electrolyte, duck behind a bush to offload coffee (and discover Atti believes in the tandem peeing phenomenon). The front-runnign 50s and caught us during this stretch, and heading back to the main trail is a lot of two-way traffic was people are heading to the water, and back out. It’s a fun section because you do get to see people behind you, and it’s always fun to say hi to friends along the way.

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Obligatory, “oh, look, rocks!” photo.

Aside from being passed by the first half-dozen 50 milers, we had the most perfect space bubble for most of this loop, and we made really good time, taking advantage of the cooler weather while we had it.

The next water stop was at the maintenance shed, 21 miles in. It’s a great stop because volunteers can drive right up to it, so they are able to bring hay, plenty of water buckets and sponge buckets, and have a hose hooked up and available to spray the horses off. It was quite congested when we got to the stop, a conglomeration of all of the distances meeting at one place. We let the horses drink, grab some hay, electrolyted, and I gave Atti a quick sponging before hopping back on and scuttling out of there, trying to keep our space bubble.

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Just after leaving the maintenance shed. Photo: John Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

I love this section of trail after the maintenance shed. It’s smooth single-track, just slightly down hill, and it’s a really fun ride. Atti and I were leading through here, and he just cruised through on light contact, effortlessly ticking off between an 8-9mph trot.

At the road crossing and water troughs just a couple miles from camp, we caught up with Cristina on Cosmo, coming in off her first loop on the LD, so we ended up riding back in with her, which made for perfect timing as Atti and Cosmo could spend their hold time together.

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Wagon train heading back in to camp from loop one.

I took a few minutes puttering around at the water buckets (trying to find one that didn’t have bees in it, always a challenge at this ride…), but Atti had taken a huge drink just a couple miles before camp, so wasn’t particularly interested in drinking again so soon.

He was at 56 as soon as his pulse as taken (criteria was 64), and I took him right over to vet. Mostly As, and even a fairly cheerful trot-out, which he normally doesn’t really see the point in doing. We headed back to the trailer and I set him up with a buffet offering of different foods to appease his somewhat picky appetite.

Cristina helped crew me and Atti — gave him a sponge-down and wrapped his legs while I sat down and browsed through my food cooler. Got my hydration pack re-filled with water and snacks, tacked up, met back up with Andrea, and was at the out-timer 10 seconds before my out-time.

Both Lilly and Atti headed out of camp doing a bit of “drunken sailor” weaving down the trailer…trotting, but in such a manner that suggested they would be perfectly happy to turn around and go back to camp now, thankyouverymuch. It was about 11AM at this point, and starting to warm up. This second loop is always the warmest, with most of the trail being very exposed, and some sections with very little breeze or air movement.

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The Scenic Trail trudge. That’s okay, Atti, no one likes this climb.

Shortly after leaving camp, the trail climbs to the top of a ridgeline on the appropriately-named Scenic Trail. It is very scenic, and you can see for miles around in all directions. It’s also exposed, has some rocky sections, and tends to be rather warm. So it can be a bit of a trudge-climb, but Atti handled it with really good humor and just kept marching along.

There’s a tendency to think of McDowell as a “flat” ride, because there appear to be very few visible climbs of any significance. But the GPS stats after the fact tell a different story.

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While they aren’t huge elevation gains, there are several long, sustained, constant uphills that are 5-8 miles of steady climbing up. It doesn’t look that way from the ground — it looks really flat and very speed-friendly, and there aren’t many obvious spots to go “oh, great time for a walk break.” So we  utilized a “trot for x number of minutes, then walk for x number of minutes” strategy, combined with bit of a “trot to the next ribbon” approach. It worked, and we ended up with a pretty consistent pace and minimal sulking from the ponies.

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“Granite Tank” water stop. This is the furthest point away from camp on this loop, and the horses are usually so sulky/pouty by this point. And then you make a turn and are directly pointed towards camp and they magically recover and get all perky again.

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Classy dude. Decorations left over from the last couple weeks of trail races that had been held at the park.

Both Atti and Lilly drank really well here. I hopped off and electrolyted them both, as well as sponged their necks. The next section of trail was a really fun, slightly downhill single-track they just begs to be trotted, and would take us right back to the maintenance shed checkpoint again.

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Trotting through a section of staghorn cholla “forest”

This section of trail used to be this long slog through a deep sand wash, but McDowell put in several new trails a couple years ago — beautiful, rolling singletrack that paralleled some of the old washes. These new trails make for so much better going and greatly enhanced my outlook on this particular ride.

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Eating, drinking, and getting hosed off at the maintenance shed.

Back at the maintenance shed, we had a space bubble of just the two of us, and the volunteers that were running the check were friends of ours, so we stayed for several minutes letting the horses eat and taking some time to  hose them off and let them cool down a bit.

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Leaving the maintenance shed on the second loop. photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

On this loop, instead of getting to go directly back to camp from the maintenance shed, you have to turn around and go back out in the opposite direction away from camp, go a ways down the trail, then pick up another trail that takes you back to camp. Most horses consider this cruel and unusual punishment. Not sure how much the riders love it, either.

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Eastern side of the McDowells — I call it the “rock giants’ playground”

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Snack break along the way

This ride only has two vet holds, so as a rider, it was really on me to take the time along the trail to stop and let Atti get some recovery breaks along the way, especially to eat. It’s really easy to get caught up in the nice trail and just cruise through the loops, so I was trying to be really conscious of looking for good areas to pause for a “grazing opportunity,” such as it was, since the whole desert is dry, brown, and crunchy right now.

Once we turned back for camp, it was a “all downhill from here” kind of trail, so we made some good time, although it was really getting warm out there. (Apparently parts of the trail hit 95°.) The horses drank well again at the road crossing water troughs, then boogied the last two miles into camp.

A significant milestone for me: this ride put me over my 500 endurance miles. That only took 12 years. Hopefully the next 500 don’t take that long. I feel like everything finally “came together” for me as a rider at this ride. In the past, I think I’ve been apt to not give myself enough credit, or just follow the lead of a more experienced rider. But this time, it was really on me to make sure I was making smart pacing decisions, really listening to the horse, and using my own judgment. It was a huge confidence boost to have everything go well and to finish so well, and while McDowell is a great “step-up” ride, it’s not an “easy” ride.

Atti was down at 52 for his pulse, and a couple more Bs on his vet card — apparently all completely within his “normal.” I repeated the same process as the first check: yank tack back at the trailer, set him in front of his buffet of goodies, wrap his legs, then sit down for a few minutes to eat/drink. Refill water pack, tack up, administer BCAAs.

I made a slight strategy error here. I was supposed to electrolyte him, but I was rushing to tack up and make my out-time, and my brain interpreted the syringing of his BCAAs as me having given electrolytes.

When I swung by Andrea’s trailer on the way to the out-timer, she told me to go ahead — she wasn’t feeling great after the heat on the second loop, so was going to stay back a little bit longer to recover.

Every ride, you have to go in with the mentality of being prepared to ride your own ride — riding partners get pulled, horses don’t pace well together, etc. Atti is used to training by himself, so I wasn’t concerned about that part. But given the drunken sailor routine at leaving on the second loop, I wasn’t sure what I was going to end up with when we went out a third time.

I opted to try for the “forward” strategy. I asked him for a nice trot up to the out-timer, and since we were right on our out-time, we got waved through and out onto the trail. Atti quite cheerfully trotted out of camp onto the trail, and not 100′ from camp, willing broke into a canter on his own and cantered the next 1/4-mile out of camp before slowing to his relaxed, 8 mph trot.

Okay, then. Guess he’s happy to be going out.

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Out on loop three by ourselves.

Being out there by ourselves, I finally let myself get a little bit emotional/happy teary. He reminds me so much of riding Mimi that this felt almost like I was out there again with her. I thought it might make me kind of sad and remind me of all the ride goals I had for her that we never go to do before her retirement, but instead it was a reminder of how much fun I’ve had with her along the way, how much I’ve learned from her, and how much we were able to accomplish. I’m just glad she doesn’t have Facebook or the ability to read a blog, since she would be very jealous about all of my catch riding and “cheating” on her.

Atti maintained his good cheer for probably the first third of the loop. Then we hit one of those long, slow, uphill slogs away from camp, and some of the enthusiasm deflated. Cristina had told me he is a very honest horse, and that when he wants to walk, it’s because he needs it. So we walked a good part of the uphill trail section. I hopped off and did part of the trail on foot as well, a mix of running and hiking. I had done some of the second loop on foot, and it felt really good to get out of the saddle and stretch.

Once we hit the next trail section that was vaguely in the “homeward” direction, Atti perked right back up again and gave me his lovely, loose-rein trot.

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Making it through the “trail hazards” section before dark.

Being out at dusk is an interesting time. I’ve noticed horses tend to be on higher alert as the sun goes down, since it’s often the predator dinner hour. Atti was definitely paying attention to things — he has a tendency to “peek” at dead logs and barrel cactus — but he was still forward and never spooked at anything.  It was also cooling down as the sun went down, and it was just breathtakingly beautiful to be out there that time of evening.

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I love my desert.

We went to the maintenance shed one final time, and I ended up staying here for probably a good 15 minutes because Atti wasn’t eating/drinking the way I wanted to see. I don’t know if he was getting physically tired or more mentally tired/pouty because he was out there by himself and it was the longest he’d ever been, distance-wise. So I walked him from bucket to bucket, waiting for him to find one that met his approval, and hand-fed him bits of hay. After about 5 minutes of this, he finally decided to take a good drink, and started more actively munching at hay, so I spent another 10 minutes hanging out letting him eat.

It was full dark by this point, and once he indicated he was done with eating, we headed back out — another “head in the opposite direction of camp” trail, the same one we had come in to the maintenance shed on during loop two. Not two minutes out from the stop, we ended up crossing paths with Andrea, riding with Jill and Stephanie, on their way in to the minatenance shed. I didn’t feel like backtracking, so I told them I was going to keep on moving along, albeit probably slowly, and they would likely catch up with me.

So we trucked on through the dark. The qucik rest stop had perked Atti right up again, especially when I realized “duh, he drank, better electrolyte” and hopped off and quickly stuffed a syringe in his mouth. We alternated walking and trotting along — it was another long uphill grade, so we just took it easy. I also knew that once his buddies caught up, he would probably perk right up from the herd mentality, so I wanted to give him a couple more miles of letting him pick whatever pace he wanted.

It was so dark out there, and I gave up trying to determine what exactly was trail and what was just reflective glowing desert ground. Atti knew, though, and he never strayed off the path. So I sat back and let him do his thing. We actually made it the couple miles up to the Granite Tank water stop and were diving into the water there before the other three caught up with us. Atti had been drinking fine when we got there, but once he buddies showed up, he dove back into the water buckets with renewed enthusiasm. So there as definitely a bit of “all by myself out here, so I’m going to pout/sulk” mental stuff going on. Which, eh…for a first go at a longer distance, I think that was the only “wall” he really hit.

From there, it was only about 8 miles to the finish, so I joined up with the merry band of ladies, much to Atti’s happiness, and Stephanie and Hadji lead us home. I love riding at night…who needs Disneyland and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride? It’s seriously a fun rush, and so exhilarating. I hadn’t bothered with glowsticks, and had a headlamp as backup but didn’t ever turn it on.

The closer we got to camp, the stronger Atti got, until he was pulling on me as much in the last 5 miles has he was in the first 5. We all walked the last quarter mile or so in, and crossed the finish line in a ride time of 12:49. I think we ended up 5th out of 12? We were in 5th at the maintenance shed, then there was a finish line pull ahead of us, but Stephanie came in ahead of us at the finish. So I think 5th? Will have to confirm that when results come out, but either 5th or 6th. Pulsed down and vetted through immediately, with a finish CRI of 52/48. He thought trotting out was dumb, but he was still perky and talking to me even at the end, and he dove into his food when I took him back to the trailer.

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Cristina’s parents had come to help pack up camp, and then take the horses to overnight at their place where they would have grass pasture turnout, so I wrapped Atti’s legs while they packed things up, and once he was settled and had some recovery time, loaded him and Cosmo up and they headed out. I retrieved my completion award (a fun color-changing clock) and top ten award (collapsible bucket), then headed home myself — my own bed was so worth the 45-minute drive versus staying in camp overnight.

That’s about the best way I can think to wrap up what’s been a very interesting 2017 ride season. This completion finally put me over 500 endurance miles…that only took 12 years. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 12 to get the next 500. Guess we’ll see what 2018 brings.

Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50

So, Man Against Horse happened back in early October…but things definitely didn’t go according to plan, so I’ve had a hard time mustering up the enthusiasm to write about it. Get through all 50 really hard miles…only to get pulled at the finish. I have to say, of all of the pulls I’ve had, this one probably sucks the most.

Short story: Beeba was off at the finish. The vet couldn’t even definitely pick a leg, just that she was “mild but consistently off.” And apparently she looked totally fine in her pasture once she got home later that evening. :/

I’m trying not to let the finish line pull completely cloud the good aspects of the weekend: riding and camping with good friends, some really good learning moments with pacing and smart trail strategy, the gorgeous fall colors on Mingus Mountain, the stunning scenery , and an overall fun time in the saddle.

But still, it stings. For whatever reason, I can feel good about the pull at Virginia City — we tried something hard, got the furthest we’ve ever been, and had a really good experience. This one? There are no good feelings about it. I’ve finished the ride before, she’s finished the ride before. It’s depressing and I’m bummed out about it. Also, to finish all the miles…but to ultimately have it not count for anything? Feels like a double insult.

Plus, a lameness pull makes me second-guess myself. What did I do wrong? Should I have slowed down even more? Done even more than I did on foot? Was it too soon after Virginia City? Should I have even started the ride? Y’know, all the shoulda-could-woulda armchair quarterbacking after the fact. Even a month later, I don’t know what I could have done differently, other than not ride.

It sucks, but we’ve concluded (based on not just these last two rides, but her entire ride history, which has been seriously up and down) that her forte is probably more as a LD/competitive trail horse rather than a 50+ miler. I’m bummed, because I really enjoyed riding her, and I let myself get way too excited and start thinking way too optimistically/far ahead with planning and future scheming.

Anyway, moving on to the ride itself. It basically took a village to make it happen. Kim wasn’t going to be able to ride, but I could still take Beeba, and she would come up and crew. I was able to find a ride for Beeba with a friend…but Barb was going to be working until late Friday afternoon and wasn’t sure when she would actually get to camp. So a convoluted plan was hatched, and despite the fact I felt like a flowchart was needed at times, it all ended up working out really smoothly.

  • Step One: Since Barb is about an hour away from me, and needed to leave for work early Friday morning, the plan was: drive my truck to Barb’s house Thurs night. Put all my ride stuff/food in her trailer, stay at her house overnight.
  • Step Two: Barb takes my truck to work. I load up Barb’s horse and drive her rig to Kim’s. Pick up Beeba. Kim follows in her car and we drive to the ride. Get camp set up and both horses vetted.
  • Step Three: Barb leaves from work Friday afternoon in my truck and drives straight to the ride.
  • Step Four: After the ride, all the stuff gets sorted into our respective vehicles, Barb drops Beeba back off at Kim’s, I drive straight home.

Endurance. It takes a village.

Ok, so we established that I drove the horses up to the ride on Friday. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with rig driving this year, and feel like I’ve earned at least fledgling membership into the “endurance girls who can drive anything” club.

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Piggies!! Javelina (collared peccary) family crossing the “road” into base camp. (Fun fact: Only very vaguely related to pigs.)

Base camp is a big open cow pasture on the Fain Ranch just outside of Prescott — open parking among the rocks and random clumps of cactus. A spot that was free of rocks was cleared, horses got settled, then I spent a couple hours puttering around and socializing before rider check in and then going to vet in.

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This is kind of fun, because I have virtually no photos of me vetting in at endurance rides. My showmanship and halter upbringing is showing through. (photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

After vetting in, I did a really short pre-ride with Beeba — meandered through camp, socialized along the way. Tried to head out along the finish trail, ended up feeling like I had a red-hot powder-keg under me. Errr, that would be a big old “nope” on that idea, so we walked politely(ish) back to the trailer red mare then got to trot schooling circles until she settled.

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pre-ride, acting fairly calm and innocent

One of the things I miss the most about riding Mimi in competition is her complete lack of explosiveness. She would spook at something, and be done. Interestingly enough, she had that “up” side that tended to appear at shows, especially large ones in new venues. But at distance rides? Never. Plenty of energy, and plenty of wanting to go forward, but I was never concerned about her bucking, rearing, spazzing and dumping me, or other variations of untoward behavior.

Friday evening, a couple dozen of us gathered for one of the “Zonie potlucks.” I’m skeptical of potlucks because so often it turns into everybody bringing a bag of chips or box of cookies and calling it good. Well, Zonies apparently love their food, because there was a glorious spread of main dishes, side dishes, and delicious homemade desserts. Yum. My contribution was a Mexican Street Corn salad, which seemed like a big hit since I only brought home a small amount of leftovers.

Ride briefing went by really quick — it seems like nothing had changed since the last time I had done the ride (2009). I should also add that this is my “anniversary” ride — it was Mimi’s and my first AERC ride back in 2005. We did the LD, and finished, and I’ve been hooked on this sport (despite questioning my sanity sometimes) ever since. 12 years in endurance…but that’s musings for another time and post.

Barb and I took the horses for a final walk around camp to stretch their legs, then retreated back to the warmth of the trailer. I was in bed at a decent time, and the 6:30 ride start meant the alarm was set for early, but not unreasonable.

Ride start nerves were out in full force again Saturday morning, albeit not as bad as at Virginia City. Barb and I waited back at the trailer until the pack cleared out (To recap: it’s an uncontrolled, “shotgun” start [at least they don’t actually fire a gun anymore] that drops through a rocky wash, then opens up through an open field. And you sort of just roughly follow along what used to be an old two-track road but has gotten fairly overgrown. Not a conducive environment for two horses who are not known for having the best start line behavior.

So we waited until a couple minutes after the start, hand-walked over to the start, mounted up, and headed straight out. Since the pack was pretty much out of sight, we were able to pick up a polite trot right away, and that was that. Beeba was settled within the first couple of miles, and she was perfectly happy to trot along behind Barb’s horse K-Man.

We kept it to a nice trot through the sand wash that is basically the first 5 miles of the trail — each year, it gets a little bit shallower and more trottable. By the time we headed out of the wash, we had caught up to the tail-end of the pack, and just kept steadily trotting along, catching and passing people.

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About 7 miles in, through the “rolling plains” section.

About 9 miles in, the trail hits one of my favorite sections: “the grapevine.” It’s roughly 7 miles up to the first vet check, and most of it is winding up through a canyon, twisting and turning in and out along a dry streambed, and then climbing up through manzanita bushes. So pretty, and so fun, especially on a athletic, agile horse.

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psychedelic endurance?

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out of the canyon and up into the manzanita. view is looking towards Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.

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in the manzanita tunnel, only a few miles out from the first vet check

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at the top of the climb, only about a mile from the check. (photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

The approach into vet check 1, Mingus Springs Camp at mile 16, is about perfect. A downhill onto a two-track road, with lots of space to jump off and lead in.

By the time we walked to the troughs and Beeba drank, she was pulsed down — to 52. Vetted through, and then she set to work remedying those B’s on the gut sounds. In the course of about 20 minutes, she managed to stuff in a whole pan of mash, some hay, and start eyeballing some of the other horses’ mashes.

It was bit of a novelty to have a crew there, and to be able to hand the horse off to Kim and sit quietly and work through my own food cooler. Turkey lunch meat, cheese stick, and pasta salad all disappeared quickly, and then it was time to put the bridle back on, tighten the girth, and mount up, right on our out time.

I had kind of forgotten about parts of the next section — it involves quite a bit of forest road, combined with some sketchier “trails” to get from one road to another. And a lot of rocks. SO many rocks. After VC and this ride, I may have threatened that I didn’t want to see anything but a groomed sand arena for the next several months.

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oh look, more rocks

Parts of this section are really pretty, because it’s at a high enough elevation that there are lots of trees around, and some pleasant shady areas. And once you’re on the roads, there is plenty of area to move out…in between the rocky areas.

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on the long road around Mingus Mountain

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scenic overlook: looking down into the Verde Valley, and to the red rocks of Sedona in the distance

The scenery through this section is amazing, though. It overlooks the whole Verde Valley, and out into the red rocks of Sedona. It’s stunning, and photos barely begin to capture the colors, let alone the feeling of that immense of a view. Just one of the reasons I love this state.

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rode for a while with Cristina and Atti through this section

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flying

The ride was perfectly timed to catch the changing of the leaves as well. Sometimes when it’s within the first day or two of October, the leaves have barely started changing, but the ride date ended up falling on the 7th this year, and that was late enough to start really seeing the leaves.

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who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons?

Contrary to popular myth, parts of the state actually do have four seasons. The Valley just isn’t one of those parts. But anything that’s higher elevation definitely does.

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water and snack break before the real climbing begins

To get to vet check 2, at the top of Mingus Mountain, there’s a 3-mile climb with an almost-2000′ elevation gain, with some parts through some technical single-track (read: stepping up through/over rocks and boulder on an uphill). It’s hard. It ate our lunches the first time we did this 50, and I hopped off and led Mimi through it the second time around.

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taking a quick breather in the shade

This time, I stayed mounted, but that was a climb that definitely took the wind out of their sails. Beeba was tired, and K-Man experienced his first “I think I met Jesus” moment there on the mountain when he slowed his relentless forward movement and voluntarily stopped to eat. Ah, nothing like a hard ride to teach them how to take care of themselves.

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steep, rocky climb

I honestly don’t remember the climb being that hard, especially the second half. Either I blocked it from my memory…or I never realized just how much of an amazing hill pony Mimi is.

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more climb

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postcards from Arizona

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those radio towers are where we are going

We finally, finally reached the top…there was a checkpoint and water there, and the horses really tanked up. We only stayed there for a couple of minutes, wanting them to keep moving rather than stand around and cramp up. It was a mile of easy service road into the check, and we moseyed, alternating walking and trotting, right into the vet check.

Beeba’s pulse down down, and she vetted through well — one standalone ‘B’ for impulsion, A’s on everything else. Kim had a nice spread set out — sun for the horses, shade for the riders — and we each set to work on our respective food offerings. About 15 minutes into the check, Beeba started shaking, and looked really stiff when Kim walked her. We threw another fleece on her, gave her extra electrolytes, and Kim alternated walking her and letting her graze. Apparently she did the same thing at the check last year with Kim — we weren’t sure if she was tying up, or just cold, because she’s very cold-sensitive, or the post-climb exertion.

Needless to say, that put a major damper on my mood, as I went from “feeling good” to “gut knotted with anxiety.” Kim took Beeba over to the vet and got the “all clear” — her muscles were good, all other parameters were good, pulse was low — so probably just cold/exertion. I was worried about taking her back out, but between the vet’s okay, Kim’s okay, the fact she had done the same thing last year, a decision to really take it slow on the last third, plus me getting off and running, we headed back out again.

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after vet check 2. cross training? (Photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

It’s pretty much “all downhill from here” after vet check 2, and I ended up hopping off and hiking/running any of the longer stretches of downhill. I could not believe how rocky and washed out this section has gotten. This was my absolute favorite part of the trail previously, because it was this smooth, flowing, slightly downhill single track that Mimi just flew down. Now, it was rutted, rocky, and a stumbling walk was the best gait we could hope for in many parts.

Right before we hit vet check three (a pulse/vet/go) I could feel Beeba take some funky steps when we were trotting along the forest road. Nothing I could pinpoint, but felt like there was a bit of a hitch somewhere in her gait. When we got to the check, we took a couple minutes to drink and pulse, then went over to vet. I had to trot her a couple times and the vet said she maybe saw “something” but just take it easy on the way back — which was literally all downhill at this point.

So we hiked out of the check, hit the section of switchbacks down Yaeger Canyon, and hiked and jogged the next several miles down the switchbacks. At the bottom of the canyon (and the last few miles into canyon) I hopped back on, but couldn’t really tell if it had made any difference or not. There was no definitive lameness, but she just didn’t feel 100%.

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Yaeger Canyon on foot

So we moseyed and took it fairly easy back into camp. Shoutout to Barb for being a real awesome riding partner and not ditching me. She certainly could have — K-Man was strong and had plenty of gas in the tank. But I really appreciated her sticking with me to the end.

Coming in to the finish, I was feeling a little hopeful — Beeba wasn’t 100%, but she wasn’t any worse. So maybe we would be okay?

Yeah, not so much. We vetted through right away, but after trotting back and forth a couple times, even yanking the tack and pulling her boots to check for any dirt/stones (nothing), it still wasn’t good enough to pass the vet’s scrutiny. They couldn’t even pinpoint a specific leg, just that she was “off.”

And that’s how I got my first finish line pull.

Barb and K-Man finished, and looked great.

Since it’s a close-by ride, we packed up camp, horses got their legs wrapped and a couple hours of recovery time, then we all hit the road. Beeba came out of the trailer sound back home and moseyed around her turnout looking none the worse for the wear.

Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan, and it kind of put a crimp in future plans. At this point, we’re operating on the theory that Beeba is probably a better LD/competitive trail horse than an endurance horse. These are not her first pulls, and it’s not fair to her, or whoever is riding her, to keep trying to pursue something that she’s probably not optimal for. It’s hard, because I really enjoyed riding her and spending time with her, and if she was my horse and the only option I had to ride (like it was with Mimi), I would probably spend the time and $ seeing if I could make things work. But reality is, she’s not mine, so it’s not my call, and I’m not going to put money into a horse that isn’t mine.

This has certainly been an interesting ride season, that’s for sure. And I say that with the full intent of “interesting” being used in the context of a curse versus a compliment.

Pony Rides Photo Spam

I’ve gotten some good saddle time in over the last few weeks, both with my own pony as well as some more catch riding. But today seems like a good day for fewer words and more photos, so it’s pic spam time.

Retail Therapy
I scored a Hought Tack set (headstall, reins, breastcollar) on eBay at the beginning of last month. Very tricked out with glowbelt biothane and Horseshoe Brand hardware. Color combo is a little more “unusual” with the yellow/purple…but I actually ran a variation on this scheme for years with Mimi (mostly purple with yellow accents).

And while I certainly don’t need any more tack, it was a good balm to come home to this in the mail after an inglorious pull at Man Against Horse (that story still to come). Pony has been pressed into fashion plate service, and I’m really pleased with the fact it fits her really well. I took a chance on that aspect, since there was no size listed, but its obviously some sort of Arab/Cob size.

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new tack meets Sofie inspection approval

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“why do you do this to me, Mom?”

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the color combo looks really good on her, especially the yellow

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not happy at the neighbor’s bull

Catch Ride — Wyatt
Two weeks ago I did a 20-miler with Andrea (whom I rode with at Virginia City) on her mustangs, Lilly and Wyatt. I rode Wyatt, who is a large, sweet, 7-yr-old gelding. He’s a fun guy, like riding a big, comfy couch, and while still a little young/green with some things, he’s very honest and has a huge try.

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Wyatt Earp

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toodling along behind Andrea and Lilly

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working on being a brave leader

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he was fun, and good for my confidence and ego — super-honest, with a big try, so as long as I was “with” him and supported him, he responded in kind and just got braver and braver the more leading we did

Catch Ride — Atti
Yesterday, I met up with Cristina and her two boys, Atti and Cosmo. She had asked me earlier last month if I would be interested in catch riding…she was the first to ask, so she got first dibs on me. :) She’s up in the Prescott area nad I’m down in the Phoenix valley, so we’re not super close, but we were finally able to make our schedules align to meet halfway and do an “introduction” ride.

Atti’s a ton of fun — he’s another Al-Marah (yes, that makes 4 AM horses I’ve ridden…one of these days I’m just going to have to get my own) and he reminds me so much of riding Mimi. Very strong and fast for his size, super catty/agile, but also bold, forward, and sensible.

We met up at the southern-most trailhead of the Black Canyon Trail, and headed north, exploring one of the last sections of the BCT I hadn’t yet seen. (There’s still one last little 5-mile section between the Table Mesa Trailhead and the point where we turned around yesterday that I haven’t seen.) Like a good part of the BCT, it was rough and rocky, interspersed with some parts where we could move out. We managed almost 11 miles in about 2 hours, so I’m really happy with that kind of pace for as rough-going as it was.

I do like the BCT…one of the topics we discussed yesterday was if I was going to sign up for the 60k at the Black Canyon Ultras in February. Haven’t yet…I’ll have to see how much distance running I can do this winter, because right now I’m in more riding and gym fitness shape than distance running shape.

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completely adorable Atti

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enjoying the Black Canyon Trail

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which way, Atti?

So I’ve got McDowell this upcoming weekend, and that will wrap up the 2017 ride season. It’s the closest, most local ride to me, only 45 minutes away, which is really convenient. And I haven’t given any thought to 2018 yet except for a mental note of “need to renew AERC membership.”