Heart Horses

I think anyone who has been around horses for any length of time has heard the term “heart horse.” That special horse with whom you share a special bond, an almost indescribable feeling you get when you’re around them.

I found the above video yesterday, courtesy of my Facebook feed, and I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched it. I love some of the descriptions they use…how they are “…the horse that brings out the best in you…not only teaches you to be a better rider, but a better person.”

I’d never quite heard it put into words that way, but I think that describes it really well. I can say I’ve learned something from every horse I’ve ridden, and there are very few times I’ve ever regretted climbing into the saddle…but those heart horses…they’re something special.

I got very, very lucky: my first horse is one of my heart horses. Not too many people are that fortunate right off the bat to end up with a lifetime heart horse that they keep for a couple decades and counting. Granted, I spent several years of riding lesson horses before I ever got Mimi, but some of those lesson horses did their best to try to dissuade a small, horse-crazy child from further pursuing her passion.

Fortunately, there were enough good ones — the priceless schoolmasters — that kept me in the saddle and kept me going. But until that first time I climbed onto Mimi’s back, I didn’t know a horse could make me feel that way. The naughty ones had terrified me, and the schoolmasters took care of me through the fear…but on Mimi? For the first time ever on the back of a horse, I felt fearless. Together, we could go anywhere, do anything…we could fly.

Of course, that feeling didn’t always exist…for the next couple of years, there was a steep learning curve of young rider + young pony, with more than one session that ended in tears (since I was too young to curse at the time). But I always clung to that feeling I had on our initial ride together, knowing what was possible.

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together, we can fly

Do we get more than one heart horse in life? I certainly like to think so, or hope so. I’ve gotten along well with pretty much all of the catch horses I’ve ridden, have clicked with a few of them, and yes, have even felt that same “together, we can fly” feeling with one.

So, what is it about a heart horse that makes them special? Everyone is probably going to have their own answer for that. It may not necessarily involve logic. In fact, if you sat down and made a pros and cons list of that horse’s characteristics, there’s probably a subheading somewhere on that list of “All The Reasons This Is A Bad Idea.” But there’s a reason they’re called “heart horses” and not “brain horses,” because while the brain is chewing over logic, the heart is daydreaming of the most recent Magical Moment with that horse.

It may not even take much. Half an arena length of a perfectly balanced, floating canter. A whiskery nuzzle against your cheek to sop up tear tracks. Whatever silly shenanigans they’ve most recently come up with (such as why my 26-yr-old pony has suddenly reverted back to her juvenile behavior of destroying her fly masks on a weekly basis?!?).

Or it’s something huge, like such a feeling of confidence and connection that you have to curb the impulse to jump on their bare back and head off to parts unknown. The forgiveness and trust they extend, even when you’ve done things that should have broken it. The lessons they are gracious enough to teach. Knowing when they absolutely need to take care of their rider.

Large or small, those moments all add up into a wonderful kaleidoscope of memories and feelings that envelope you, and you want to laugh, and smile, and cry all at the same time, because it’s a feeling that’s hard to compare to anything else.

One of my favorite tights companies, PerformaRide, recently released their 2019 limited edition range of tights and accessories, and this year’s theme is “Empower.” Four prints/designs, each with a different animal as a totem of an element of personal empowerment and the feelings we have in the saddle. Flamingo: Graceful; Tiger: Power; Wolf: Courage; Horse: Freedom. I really can’t think of a better way to distill down the essence of what I feel in the saddle than that.

For sure I’m more graceful dancing up the trail with my horse than when I’ve shuffled the same trail on my own two feet. Power? We all know the notion that we can physically control a 1000-pound flight animal is laughable…but the true power comes from being in a partnership with said 1000-pound flight animal, and them trusting me enough to let me guide them. “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” Nothing more needs said, other than to celebrate the feeling of cantering through the desert, with nothing but the sound of hoofbeats, snorting nostrils, and the wind whispering past your ears. And courage…it’s taken a lot of courage to get me in the saddle on many occasions. But in return, I’ve seen that courage come back to me, with that incredible, “take on the world and fly” feeling.

Are they perfect? Hahahaha…no. See above about the “teaching you to be a better rider.” And better horseperson. And how to think outside the box. How to question the norm. What to do when “what you’ve always done” doesn’t work. They also make me want to be better. To figure out the why behind a behavior or other challenge, and figure out what they might be trying to tell me. To better my skills, my knowledge, my communication. I’ve learned better emotional control, and impulse control. I’ve learned to let go, trust the horse more, and to not micromanage. To pick my battles. That those extraordinary horses in life may comes with a few extras quirks, shenanigans, and speed bumps in the road.

To those special, special horses who have left your hoofprints permanently embedded in my heart…thank you. For everything. The good moments, and the bad. The times I’ve wanted to scream or cry, and the times I’ve wanted to shout from the rooftops. The life lessons. The mane to cry in. The whiskery muzzle to smooch. The shenanigans, the laughter, the headaches, the heartaches. All of it has shaped my life, and contributed to the building blocks of who I am.

Your turn, readers…Let’s hear about your heart horse(s) and celebrate these special equines in our lives!

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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.

Tevis Links

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It’s that time of year again — in a little under 3 weeks, riders will be saddling in the wee hours of the morning, and riding late into the night and the wee hours of the following morning. Yep, Tevis is just around the corner, August 17th this year, moved to a later-than-usual date after concerns of heavy snowpack in the Sierras and trail accessibility.

I’ll once again be donning my crew hat — this year marks the 10th time I’ll have crewed Tevis, so I guess that makes me Decade Crew. This time, I’ll be crewing for my friend Cathy, whose horses I rode at the Tevis Ed Ride in 2017.

My previous crewing and riding Tevis stories that I’ve blogged about:

2018 Ride

2017 Crewing
2016 Crewing
2015 Crewing
2014 Crewing Part A / Part B

Other links:

Main Tevis site
This will also be where to go for the live webcast link on Ride Day.

Tevis Cup on Facebook

Someone on YouTube put together a very comprehensive playlist of Tevis-related media.

“Inside Information” Tevis video

Tevis Ride stories blog (and if you Google “Tevis ride story” you’ll also get a ton of stuff showing up)

Endurance.net almost always has annual Tevis coverage on their Events page

For everyone riding, good luck and I’ll see you up there. For those following along from home…enjoy the air conditioning and a cold drink for me.

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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Velocity

Velocity equals Distance over Time. Yes, that is massively simplified down, but the only thing I’m worse at than chemistry is math and physics. So that would be velocity, as I understand it.

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What is the landspeed velocity of a frustrated-but-persistent endurance rider?

This summer will be 15 years since I’ve been involved in endurance riding. A few years of competitive trail prior to that, but the summer of 2004 was what officially kicked off my love affair with endurance, starting with a trip down to Australia, where my dad and I got to gallop endurance Arabians on the beach and ride through the rainforest; then I came back home and crewed Tevis for the first time.

From that point forward, I was hooked. Competitive trail was fine, but I had been introduced to the idea and the world of “further, faster.” I scoured the internet, sniffed out every information resource I could find, ramped up my pony’s conditioning. The endurance fire had well and truly been lit…and it’s pretty much been ups and down ever since.

This may be one of the most honest posts I write when I say endurance has been amazing, exhilarating, fulfilling, an invaluable learning experience, and has left me on top of the world. It has also been the most disappointing, frustrating, disheartening experience that has left me a demoralized, crumpled heap. I know I’m not unique in that, and it’s definitely helped in the past to talk to other people and find out some of the “behind the scenes” where they haven’t had an entirely smooth go at it either.

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This photo of Roo and me at Tevis last year showed up in this month’s issue of Endurance News. I was quite surprised to see it, and I’ll admit, I started crying after I read the quote.

“There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the board daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” — Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, 1820

I’ve had so many ups and downs in this sport that sometimes it’s hard not to feel like it’s a constant uphill battle in trying to reach my goals. And there’s many times I don’t feel like I’m particularly strong or resilient in dealing with it. But I guess the fact that I still persistently keep on chipping away at it, or refuse to throw my hands up and walk away in disgust, speaks to a certain amount of…whatever you want to call it. Fire. Stubbornness. Tenacity. Optimism. Reincarnated Whack-A-Mole.

And I’ll admit I have some big dreams and lofty, some might even say slightly ludicrous, goals, especially given the fact I have one mostly-retired pony and am currently at the mercy of relying on catch rides. But that also provides some great motivation to get out there and do something about it. It’s currently small steps…small steps like finishing my online equine anatomy course, one of the requirements for Masterson Method bodywork certification.

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I still have many more small steps towards that final certification, but each one completed is still one step closer towards my end goals.

It can be altogether frustrating at times, but I’m not ready to hang up those big dreams. I’ve held on to them for too long, and worked too hard to get to this point, to give up on the ideas that make me sparkly-eyed. Things like:

  • Pioneer ride finish (on the same horse). I’ve never done three days in a row, let alone on the same horse. I’ve done a few back-to-back days, but on different horses, and one back-to-back on the same horse…but we didn’t finish the first day.
  • Tevis finish. Last year was good in that it really knocked some of the edge off the slightly-obsessive view and pedestal I had put this ride on…but it’s still my Original Endurance Goal. I will happily aim for multiple finishes…at some point…but for starters, I’d just be happy with one buckle.
  • Virginia City 100. More unfinished business. And I just adore this ride. The history, the atmosphere, the challenge…but it’s also way less intense of an environment than Tevis, and a little more doable on a regular basis since it doesn’t need quite the level of crew personnel and involvement.
  • Big Horn 100. Another one of the “big 100” rides, at least in my book. Wilderness, self-sufficiency, amazing scenery, challenging trail.
  • I love 100s, or at least the idea of them. We’ll talk more when I can actually finish one. But having a couple of horses going, to where I’m able to chase a few 100s a year, would be my idea of awesome.
  • This is really far out there, especially at this point, but…going down to Australia and doing the Quilty. I would love to someday be in a position to do a horse trade of a Tevis (or other 100) ride for a Quilty ride…or do a horse lease or something for the Quilty. But some of my initial fascination with and introduction to endurance came about down in Australia, so it kind of just seems fitting.

Big dreams, yes…but also big motivators, and something to keep me buckled down and going during this certification process. Just don’t ask me to even think about velocity calculations.