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.

2019 Ride Season

AERC ride season starts Dec 1 and runs through Nov 30 of the following year. Which means that as of this past Saturday, 12/1, the 2019 AERC ride season was on!

Only once in the 13 years I’ve been doing endurance have I done a December ride…they just historically haven’t happened very frequently in AZ, which is a shame because the weather in early December is just about perfect. I’m guessing that timing between holidays probably makes it more difficult.

But we’re fortunate this year in that we’ve got a brand-new ride coming up on Saturday, 12/8 — the Dashing Through the Trails ride, held at Estrella Mountain Park. I’m really excited about this ride — it’s “local” to me, being only an hour away, and it’s the site of my very first competitive trail ride I did, back in 2001, so there’s some major nostalgia and memories involved.

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entry sent in last week

I’m fortunate enough to be riding my favorite catch-ride darling Flash again, and I can’t think of a better way to start off the season!

shamelessly taking every opportunity to spam my audience with Flash photos #sorrynotsorry

My last ride that I actually rode was back in August, so on the agenda this week is taking care of all my ride season prep and making sure I can actually find the things I need for the weekend.

My half chaps were capable of fully standing upright on their own, as they haven’t been washed since before Tevis, so they’re currently sitting in a bucket, soaking away their layers of grime. (This is when I hope they’re not held together by horse hair and trail dust.)

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Free-standing half chaps…even Artemis is worried

It’s also winter (“winter lite” since it is AZ), which means things I wore for rides in the summer might not be quite toasty enough, so it’s time to dive into my stack of jackets and vests to figure out the most appropriate apparel without bringing half my closet along.

Like I said before, this is a great way to start off the 2019 season…a ride right off the bat, and on my favorite catch-ride. At this point, I have no clue what the season will hold…I know what I would wish/dream/like to happen, but endurance is pretty much an exercise in creative thinking and flexible planning, so I guess we’ll see what ends up actually happening along the way…

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any view, through these ears, would be great with me…

Ride Story: Tevis 2018

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I got into endurance because of wanting to ride Tevis – not exactly a unique story. It was the first endurance ride I ever attended – back in 2004, the 50th anniversary ride. I was in the middle of riding NATRC, and a fellow rider and friend asked me if I would be interested in crewing. Tevis had already started getting its hooks in me even at that point, and that one crewing trip was all it took to slide from “interested” to “obsessed.”

I came back again the next year, did my first AERC ride in 2005, and spent the next several years obsessing over “the Tevis plan” and trying to get to Tevis. I did my first 50 on Mimi in 2008, with the end goal in mind of Tevis 2009. A lack of qualifying miles on my part nixed that plan in fairly short order, so I took up the crew mantle again in ’09, with the thought of 2010 in mind.

Long story short, rarely does life go according to plan, and 2010 found me with a retired endurance pony and a busy school schedule. Fast forward to 2012, when I once again fixed on my crew hat (literally…I’ve got a collection of several different crew hats now)…and proceeded to crew my way through every year since.

Until this year. This year being the year I threw a few tickets into the Tevis entry raffle at the AERC Convention, because why not. I’m pretty sure it’s the most popular item at the AERC raffle, having its own special allotted raffle bin and all. Odds of winning, especially with only a few tickets, were astronomically not in my favor.

Maybe I should have bought a lottery ticket that weekend as well.

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And so it begins…Having Barbara White pull my winning raffle ticket out made me feel like the luckiest girl alive. (That clear bin to the left was just for the Tevis entry…and the photo only shows a little more than half of it. I have no clue how many tickets were in there, other than…a lot.)

So there I was, irony of ironies…a Tevis entry…and no horse. I put the word out to my endurance network, and ended up with a couple of “play it by ear” possibilities, but nothing very definitive. In the meantime, I got the opportunity to catch-ride Flash at some spring and summer rides to get him legged up for Tevis – too bad he was already spoken for, as I fell in love with him after one little pre-ride and would have taken him through in a heartbeat – but riding him kept me in very good shape and gave me the needed saddle conditioning that can only come from longer competition rides.

I also had Plan B – Roo. Lucy had offered him to me as just that – a no-expectations “plan B” that would at least get me to the start and allow me to experience the beautiful high country, and we would just see how far we got down the trail. As the season continued on, and potential plans fell apart or dropped to the wayside, Roo moved into the position of Plan A. And I was pretty dang excited about it. I’ve done a 50 on him, and pre-ridden different parts of the Tevis trail on him (he’s shown me everything from Deadwood to the finish), so it only seemed right that he be the one to show me the first part of the trail.

Now, obviously, a “normal” Tevis experience probably wouldn’t be so casual of an approach – it’s a big expense (especially if you’re from out-of-state or non-local) to go in with that kind of a “just do it for the experience” approach – but in this case, it was a rare opportunity for me to have a go at it with minimal expenses, so I was going to take that chance. For someone like me, who tends to overthink, over-plan, and hype myself up into a bit of an anxious wreck, this was probably the absolute best way for me to experience my first Tevis.

Fast forward through the spring and first part of summer of me doing what I could to stay in shape and be as ready as I could make myself while still living 800 miles away from my Tevis mount. It was a bit of a weird/funny way to go about things…someone else was conditioning the horse I would be riding, while I was helping put ride conditioning on another horse someone else would be riding.

Wednesday before the ride, I was out the door, stuffed suitcases in tow. In typical me fashion, I don’t travel lightly, so even though I was planning on using all of Roo’s usual gear, I still had plenty of “extras” and stuff that I was toting along.

My flight arrived in Sacramento mid-afternoon, Lucy picked me up at the airport, and we made our way to the Auburn Fairgrounds, with a quick stop in to Echo Valley Feed first to pick up one of the shirts they hand out to riders. This year, the BBQ was moved over to the North Lot parking lot, and I have to say, I like the location change. It was cooler and breezier, plus there was a nice view of the Auburn Overlook parking lot. The BBQ is always the first chance to do the meet-n-greet routine and wander around getting caught up with folks, which was exactly what I did. And shopped a bit at the Tevis store. Then it was time to head home to Lucy’s (aka “Tevis Low Camp”). Lucy and I stayed up for a while going over some of my crew notes and talking about the ride in general, and then I meandered off to bed before it got too late.

Thursday was my busy day – Dad was flying in to crew for me, so I headed back down the hill to Sacramento to pick him up, then we ran errands on the way back home (shop for food, pick up crew hats, get diesel in the truck). Once back, it was time to tackle my favorite task in the world…gluing on Roo’s boots. I had opted to go a little bit outside the box for him, and I was gluing on Viper shells. His hoof shape is such that the Vipers are a perfect fit, and fitting him into the Classic-sized glue-ons was just not working how I wanted it to, especially on his fronts. The hinds would have worked, but I also really prefer the Viper tread.

Lucy had already trimmed Roo over the weekend to his ideal parameters, so there was very little physical trimming I had to do other than a tiny bit of touch-up here and there. I spent lots of time meticulously prepping his hooves – first with the smooth side of the rasp, then thoroughly going over them with really coarse sandpaper, and finally a wipe-down with denatured alcohol.

For his boots, I was trying something that I had talked about doing for a couple of years, but finally had an opportunity to try. One concern with gluing that often happens is if Adhere gets under the hoof, it sets up rock-hard and can cause the equivalent of stone bruising. I can minimize the chances of that happening just in how I apply the boots – gluing the sides while the hoof is flat on the ground – but I wanted extra insurance. To that end, I squeezed a layer of Vettec Super Soft Equipak on the inside of the boot, just barely above the bevel along the sole/wall. The idea was for it to serve as a dam to prevent any Adhere from sliding under the hoof, and it was soft and squishy enough that it would not interfere with boot fit or the hoof seating into the bevel. It also cures in a fairly quick amount of time, so there’s not an extended set-up time to worry about.

Once I got Roo’s hooves all pretty and prepped, Dad was on hand to help out with all of the “need a second set of hands” aspects of gluing. He handed me extra glue tips, took the glue away from me when needed, and kept Roo standing quietly. I *have* glued all by myself before, but it really does help to have a second person, especially in hot weather when everything happens so much faster. In fact, I was even sticking the glue/dispenser into a cooler in-between uses, because that stuff was setting up fast. I went through a ton of tips because in-between gluing the toe and applying the boot, the stuff would set up in the tip before I could then glue the sides. But it got done, and while it wasn’t the loveliest glue job around, it was better than the last time I glued.

Gluing also went faster than I had anticipated, so I had plenty of time to finish packing up the trailer, put dinner together, pull my own clothes/stuff together, and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Friday morning, the only thing I had to do was get food coolers put together and give Roo a bath. All of that was managed in record time, and then it was time to load up and head down the road.

We had to do some logistical planning in terms of vehicles – we wanted an extra car so that Lucy and Dad didn’t have to unhitch the truck at Foresthill to get up to Robinson Flat, but also didn’t want to drive an extra vehicle all the way up to Robie Park and back – so to that end, we devised a plan in which Dad and I would drive ahead into Auburn with the crew car, leave it at a safe spot at the Foresthill exit, then Lucy would pick us up in the rig and we would all drive up to Robie Park together. Saturday morning, Lucy and Dad would drive the rig down, then Dad would pick up the car and follow Lucy to Foresthill, she would park the trailer, and then they would zip up to Robinson Flat in the car. If this sounds slightly exhausting, that’s because it is. Not only is Tevis a challenging ride physically, it’s also very mentally intense – there is a lot of planning and details that have to be ironed out and logistics to be sorted. Especially if you’re a somewhat Type A person who has a hard time with not having things planned out well in advance, and contingency plans in place, and…and…and…

This whole Tevis endeavor was a very, very good exercise in not turning into a crazy ride-zilla control freak.

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Ready to load up and hit the road!

Once on I-80, it’s a quick drive up to Truckee, and a beautiful, super scenic one. This time, the views were definitely impacted by the haze of smoke from several large wildfires burning. While none were in the close vicinity, wind patterns were moving the smoke in all around.

As we drove into camp, I reflected on how un-nervous I was. Seriously. I think I’ve been more nervous on the years I’ve been crewing. But this time, the main thing I was feeling was an overwhelming sense of relief – finally, I was at Tevis. Finish or not, I was finally at least getting a chance to start this crazy ride that’s held my brain in an obsessive grip for so many years.

Lucy dropped me and Dad off at the “action area” of vet-in and check-in so I could check in and grab my rider packet, while she went to park the rig and get Roo settled. I got my packet, got a lovely swag bag of rider goodies, picked up my SPOT GPS tracker I had signed up for, then hoofed it back to our camp. Lucy had Roo all set up, so once we got camp all set up, I gathered up Roo and headed over to vet in.

I had a few “Oh, please let me start” nerves when I walked up, but Roo was a perfect gentleman for vetting, and gave me a lovely trot-out. He passed with flying colors and the vet’s comment that he “looked excellent” and we were in!

Once vetted, we headed over to get my rider ID bracelet, get Roo’s butt numbered, and get the first blood draw done for a research study we were participating in on the effects of inflammation markers in endurance horses (something that apparently has been studied in racehorses, but this would be a first time with distance competition).

Once all of that was taken care of, I had one last main task for my afternoon – pre-ride Roo to the start and back. In all honesty, I was not looking forward to it. Roo doesn’t really like going out by himself, and tends to be a bit spooky and naughty, especially on a pre-ride. Oh, well. Better to get it out of the way now than to end up with some even more undesirable shenanigans during ride start.

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Heading out to pre-ride

I came fully prepared for shenanigans, and was armed with a short jumping bat. I think it’s a throwback to my jumping days, but for whatever reason, carrying a little crop immediately makes me feel more confident and comfortable. Like the ability to give them a little “tap, tap” on the shoulder is suddenly going to make all the problems go away. It’s like Dumbo’s Magic Feather of endurance riding.

Overall, he was actually pretty good. I had to pedal him on the way out…all by ourselves…and he thought a kayak on the roof of a passing car just might eat him. But we made it to the start banner, and I finally got to take my own “between the ears” photo of that iconic banner.

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We made it this far…

And then we turned towards home and he had to give me an impressive display of athleticism by leaping around and trying to bolt back down the road. That earned him a few cross words and the directive to do a polite, orderly trot back, and he was walking politely by the time we got back to camp.

After a couple of disappointing experiences with getting meal tickets for the ride dinner, only to have them run out of food, we’ve taken to making our own Friday evening dinner. This time, it was a collaborative effort that netted pasta with little chicken sausages, marinara or alfredo sauce, salad, chips/salsa, and brownies for dessert. Kaity arrived just before dinner, crew goodies got passed out (crew hats, and Lucy made batik-dyed crew bandanas), and we all had a chance to socialize and catch up before heading down to the ride briefing.

All of the most critical pertinent information is posted up on the Tevis website, including maps, checkoff times, checkpoint info, etc…so the meeting is typically pretty short, covers any really important information they want emphasis on, and goes over any last-minute changes. But for such a big, important ride, it’s one of the most succinct ride briefings I’ve been to. And I’ve sat through a number of them at this point, so it wasn’t really anything new.

After briefing, Lucy gave a walk-through of the area that would be “Pen 2” for starting in the morning – where to go, and areas to avoid if you didn’t want to run your horse into a tree. That was helpful, since I had looked at the map overview of the spot, but was having a harder time visualizing it. So to get a quick walkthrough while it was still light out was very useful for the next morning.

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Artsy sunbeam photos during our walk-around of Pen 2

Back at the trailer, the crew car got packed (Kaity and Megan would be schlepping all of the gear for both myself and Renee, and never has a Subaru been more stuffed…) and the “point crew” headed off to camp at Foresthill for the night. I took Roo for a little stroll around the area, then settled him for the night with a fleecy blanket and full hay bag.

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Crew Tetris Level: Beyond Expert

I thought I was feeling pretty settled, but apparently my subconscious was not. Sleep, usually somewhat elusive on typical ride nights, was practically non-existent that night. I felt like I could never fully fall asleep, and at one point, I was startled awake by the sound of some noise and voices outside the trailer – turns out the resident black bear had come sniffing around my Dad’s tent, and he and a couple of the neighbors were out shooing it away.

Great. Do not get your crew eaten by a bear. (And no, there was no food, or even toothpaste, in the tent. That was just one entirely too curious bear.)

So, needless to say, it was a short night, and by the time my alarm went off at 3, I was pretty much already awake. I slowly dressed and picked at coffee and breakfast, and managed to cram in a banana and most of a bowl of oatmeal. Lucy worked on getting Roo ready (I could get spoiled by this crew thing…), I made one final pit stop, and then it was time to get on and walk over to the start. Roo had his grown-up horse hat on, and was all business as he marched down the road. Lucy was walking up to the start with me, and we even managed to do a stirrup length adjustment on the fly.

I don’t remember exactly what time it was when we reached Pen 2, but I think we milled around quietly for maybe 10 minutes? We alternated between walking around in circles and standing out of the way but strategically positioned in such a way as to easily exit Pen 2 without being in too much of a crush of horses.

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Standing quietly, contemplating what’s ahead. Full moon in the background.

I went in to Tevis with a very firm “ride my own ride” plan, with some “we’ll see how they pace together” plans. Given that Roo prefers a buddy and can get pouty and sulky and think the world is ending if he’s alone, it was preferable to ride with someone else…but he also is more of a steady-eddy worker bee type when it comes to pacing. Very consistent, but not fast. So I was going to have a balancing act of keeping his spirits up and motivated, but not letting him burn himself out, especially by going too fast in the beginning. To that end, Andrea (whom I rode with at Virginia City last year), MJ (another AZ rider), and I had made tentative “see how they do together” plans to try to ride together, at least at the start. We were parked near each other, so all managed to make our way to the pens together and hang near each other, waiting to be released. Lucy hung out with us, and right before they released us, I peeled off my outermost jacket layer and pitched it at her on the go as we surged out of the pen en masse.

Roo was absolutely perfect at the start. We alternated walking and slow trotting up the road, generally keeping to a side-by-side configuration with riders around us. There were half a dozen people who thought it necessary to do the “elbows flinging, practice-for-Black-Friday-sales” barge-by – because getting three or four horses ahead is going to make so much difference at this point – but overall people were very courteous and horses well-behaved.

I think I was probably towards the back of the first third of Pen 2 as we headed out, and there was never any time that I had to stop and stand and wait. By the time we reached the actual start line/banner, people had started spreading out into a single-file line and we just eased our way right onto the trail. Right away, Andrea and MJ took off at a lot faster trot than I wanted to go, and I just held Roo back, setting our comfortable trot pace around 7-7.5mph.

It’s hard to put into words the feeling of that moment, but starting down that single track trail, lit by the last of the moonlight and the early pre-dawn, already dusty from the dozens of hooves ahead of us, I felt this incredible sense of peace, confidence, and happiness wash over me. I talk about my “zen” moments at rides, when the horse and I are totally in sync and feel like we could take on the world. This was all of that, and more. I felt like we were in a perfect bubble out there – the riders in front of us had disappeared, and no one behind us had caught up yet. Roo was listening to me, maintaining his perfect 100-mile trot, completely locked onto the trail, motoring his way through the dark. It was probably one of the most magical moments on horseback I’ve ever experienced.

All too soon, we caught up with a couple more riders in front of us. They had a nice, easy trot pace going, though, so I asked if I could tuck in behind them for a bit. They were totally fine with it, and I was glad to have found a couple of people traveling at the same pace I was, since the faster-paced people started catching up to us and going by. This section of the trail was what I would call wide single-track – not room to comfortably travel side-by-side for an extended length of time, but plenty of room to move over and easily let people go past. So that’s what we did. A couple of times, Roo glanced back at me as though to say, “Can we follow them?” but he politely listened to me as I requested he maintain his comfortable pace.

I know we got passed by a ton of people, but I was so proud of how both Roo and myself did through this section. I had to very consciously fight against my desire to “go with the pack” – I can see why it is so easy to get swept up in the “conga line” of speedy trotting through this section. I know Roo would have loved to have been turned loose, but he was so good about listening to me and keeping to a slower pace.

After a couple of miles, the majority of the faster traffic had passed by, and we were just travelling in small groups. I passed a couple people, got passed again, passed some more…kid of back and forth, pretty much riding our own ride, with a few people nearby. It was really fun passing or being passed by people I knew (or who knew Roo), and there were a couple times he garnered some “He’s looking great!” comments along the way.

This first section, from the start to the highway crossing, doesn’t get talked about a lot – probably because it passes by in too much of a blur – but I really enjoyed this section. The single-track was beautiful and interesting, and I loved the technical aspects like crossing the little bridges. Roo might not be fast, but he’s super-handy, and he did so good on navigating the ups and downs of this section.

Pretty soon, we were at the Hwy 89 underpass crossing – Roo lead a small group of us down, under the highway, with a patented spook-n-leap at the manhole/culvert thing next to the trail, and back up the other side. He merrily trotted next to the concrete barrier beside the highway, and then popped back up onto the single-track trail.

The webcast was filming live video at the crossing, and you can see us on this video. We appear at about the 1:30 mark. (Roo is grey, yellow tack, and I’m wearing a dark grey shirt and white helmet.)

The next section would take us on more single track, climbing up into the Squaw Valley ski resort area. We were in our own tiny little space bubble for a bit, which was hilarious as Roo would trot down the trail, letting out a rather bellowing whinny every so often. Our space bubble was fairly short-lived, though, and we were soon back in a small group of people – several that I knew – and that made it enjoyable to trot down the trail, laughing and trading early morning ride banter back and forth. I had to figuratively pinch myself a couple of times – I was on the Tevis trail, riding Tevis – and I was having a blast! I was fulling expecting to be uptight, anxious, under pressure…but I had drawn the right hand of cards, it seemed, because I was relaxed, in a good space bubble, and really enjoying the experience.

Once I reached Squaw Valley, I was glad to be in a group of people – there were several areas that I almost went off-trail, and having experienced people direct me was the only thing that saved me. The first time was still on the single track, when the caution ribbon blocking the wrong way had been knocked down and trampled, and the trail split into two directions. Fortunately, there was a ribbon a bit further down on the correct trail. Then, twice on the dirt roads in the ski resort area, I overshot turns…blithely trotting along, and “going straight” looked like easiest way, completely ignoring the big chalk arrow on the ground. And the second time, I was managing Roo’s mini-meltdown over the flapping caution tape and cones…that it didn’t even occur to me that they were there to direct ride traffic (there was construction happening around the ski resort and I assumed it was for that purpose) until riders behind me whistled and pointed out the single-track trail we were supposed to be going on. Go figure. Normally paying attention to trail markings and staying on course is one of my hallmarks.

I had been told by multiple people – walk the climb up to High Camp. Some people might trot/canter it, but for my purposes, the only thing that would get me was a tired horse. So we walked all of the climbs, and trotted whatever was flat. Roo got good at eating on the go – there was grass alongside the roads, and I would randomly lean over and stuff bites of carrot in his mouth as we were walking. The climb was gorgeous, and again, I really focused on staying in the moment, and enjoying the here and now.

At 13 miles, you reach the High Camp checkpoint. There’s water troughs there, but Roo was more interested in finding a spot to stretch out and pee than he was drinking. Relieving the bladder sounded like a good idea, so I handed him off to a willing volunteer, and darted off to my own spot. That taken care of, I gave Roo a small dose of electrolytes, then hopped back on. I think I took maybe 5 minutes there. I connected up with MJ and Andrea up there, and we headed out at the same time. Beyond High Camp, there’s still one last bit of climbing up to Watson’s Monument, and Roo sneakily tried to trot as I was turned around, trying to look at Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, all of the smoke from the fires had settled in, and the lake was completely blanketed with smoke. Cresting the top of the climb at Watson’s Monument and looking out into the Granite Chief Wilderness, the smoke layer had settled in on that side as well. We were currently above the smoke layer, but it looked like we were going to descend down into it at some point.

Going through the Granite Chief Wilderness was absolutely spectacular. The trail is technical, with rocks and logs to step over, around, or between. There’s water to cross, and although there were a few muddy sections here and there, it wasn’t at epic mud-bog levels. My favorite section was at one point, we were following the trail up a streambed and tiny waterfall. Roo even stopped to drink from the waterfall before stepping up over it. He was such a good boy – we were at the back of a train of people, and he still took the time to figure out all of the obstacles. He never rushed, and made tons of really smart decisions. To me, that section was like something out of my favorite fantasies. You could have told me I was in Middle Earth, and it wouldn’t have been a hard sell.

I don’t know at exactly what point the Granite Chief Wilderness ends and it reverts back into the Tahoe National Forest, but at some point, we transitioned between the two. Once in the national forest, we were put on a section of trail that was freshly cut – like, barely finished as of ride time – that hadn’t yet been rained on or bedded down in any way. This section was probably one of the craziest things I’ve ridden. The dust was so fine and so thick, it was like riding blind. At one point, it was actually up over my head. But Roo…brave Roo…he gave me his heart and his trust. I don’t think he could see much of anything – certainly not the rocks and roots underfoot – but I would watch the horse ahead of us, and in the brief moments of the dust poofing out from underhoof, I could see wherever there was a rock or a root, and would communicate such to Roo. It was another one of those moments that is hard to describe, but I was, and still am, overwhelmed by the level of trust he put in me at that moment. In all that swirling dust, he never put a hoof wrong. Even when we ended up in the front of a long wagon train, he bravely trotted through, barely flicking an ear at tree trunks that would suddenly loom up out of the dust.

That section was less than a couple miles long, all told, but it was a relief to be able to break free of the dust cloud and get back onto established trails. (Once it beds in after a winter of snow and some rain, it will be a lovely trail – single-track, with fun switchbacks.) From there, it was only a couple miles to the Lyon Ridge water stop and trot-by. Roo dove into the trough as I jumped off, handed my reins off to a willing volunteer, and ducked behind a nearby bush for a quick potty break. Another small dose of electrolytes into Roo, and I made good use of the thoughtfully provide mounting block. The vets gave us the ‘all clear’ on the trot-by, and we were on our way again.

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Onward past Lyon Ridge, I was super-excited about getting to Cougar Rock. I thought it was *right there* after Lyon Ridge, so I was a little surprised to keep going for a while before reaching it. I was committed to doing the rock – I didn’t know what my chances for a buckle were, so I was going to go for the photo. From a distance, it didn’t look bad at all, although I had some “oh, holy crap” butterflies when I got up close to it and it looked a lot bigger. But I trusted Roo. I gave him lots of leg, and some verbal encouragement, and he just easily marched up that rock. No fuss, no drama, no wild flailing or leaping. Just no-nonsense, business-like…and the perfect Cougar Rock photo. This is the photo I have dreamed about for years.

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From there, it was about 5 miles into the first full vet check at Red Star Ridge. Everything was lovely single-track, some shaded under trees and other parts exposed. We also passed through Elephant’s Trunk, which is a section of exposed trail on a slope that always sounded ay more terrifying than Cougar Rock…but in reality, it was a total non-issue, and I didn’t even realize that was the section in question until we had passed it and someone said something about it.

The trail does a singletrack switchback into Red Star, so it was easy to hop off above the check and lead down. Roo started tanking up at the troughs and chowing down on the alfalfa soaking in the troughs while I sponged him down on his neck, shoulders, and legs. He came in around 72 at the immediate courtesy check, and he was down to the 60 pulse parameter in about 5 minutes. As soon as he was down, we headed over to the vets and he passed with all A’s, from my recollection. We stayed a couple more minutes on the far side of the check, letting him eat a bit more, then headed out again with Andrea and MJ.

A minute or so out of the check, I realized I had made a strategic error and forgotten to electrolyte. I was so tempted to keep going, but I wanted to keep to a “small but frequent doses” schedule, and wasn’t sure going into the 7-mile long-trotting stretch between Red Star and Robinson Flat was the best time to run low on e’lytes. So in mid-trot stride, I grabbed the e’lyte tube out of the saddle pack, paused Roo long enough to jump off, dosed him, jumped back on, and let him take off trotting down the trail again as I stuffed the syringe back in place. And we caught up with our group in about 30 seconds.

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Looking back, I think this section between Red Star and Robinson Flat was probably my biggest strategic error. I had to weigh out the mental load versus physical load for Roo. Being with friends kept his spirits up – I think he would have rapidly deflated along that stretch all by himself – but I think they were going just a bit faster than his comfortable pace, and I think it tapped him out. But he’s also really hard to get mentally motivated again once he deflates, so the end result may have been the same.

This was a harder section for us – that much long-trotting isn’t in either of our repertoires, so we did a lot of “walk this uphill section, then trot the flats and the downs.” He was unimpressed with the uphills, but still super-keen to trot the flats and the downhills, and he came pretty much flying into Robinson Flat. As we approached, I dumped my water bottles on his neck on the go, then jumped off and started jogging him in.

Dad, Lucy, and Kaity were waiting for me, and they jumped in and started pulling tack and sponging Roo as we walked down the road. I think, all told, from the time we reached the in-timer and over to the water troughs to let Roo drink and keep sponging him, it took him maybe 5 minutes to pulse down, and then we headed over to the pulse box. He was indeed pulsed down to the requisite 60, so they sent us on into the vet line.

Distance riding is a small world, and it’s even smaller when you end up getting vetted by a vet you already know. In this case, Dr. Mike Peralez had vetted me at a couple of NATRC rides, as well as a couple of rides when I rode with Kaity. We went through the usual checking of all parameters, and trotted out and back. Overall, everything looked good, with a couple of things he noted – a “slight unevenness” in the hind (which he also said could have been the uneven ground we were trotting on), but gut sounds were a little quiet, so keep an eye on him during the hold, and I could always bring him back for a re-check before going out if I wanted to.

Well, that’s not necessarily the ringing endorsement of “all systems go!” that you want to hear. Hmmm.

Kaity swooped in to take over Roo, and she and Lucy set to work getting him fed and taken care of while Dad popped me into a chair and took care of me. First order of business was a washcloth, because I was definitely taking home the award for “filthiest Tevis rider ever.” Then I worked on nibbling on some food while Dad re-packed my saddle bags.

Before we tacked back up, it was decided to take Roo for a re-check. A couple of times, he had stretched out like he wanted to pee, but didn’t, and he was just acting a little out of sorts with the world. So Lucy and Kaity took him down, and left me with the directive of “stay here and recover” because apparently I wasn’t looking great at that point. Sure enough, I was feeling kind of queasy and pretty tired, and nothing, food-wise, was at all appealing. I nibbled on a couple things here and there, and figured I would feel better once I got moving again. The time to tack up came and went, and no sign of Roo re-appearing, so I headed back down to the vet area. Kaity was just coming back up to find me to discuss options. On re-check, Roo’s gut sounds were still quiet. That was enough for me – they were putting the decision as “up to me” and I chose to rider option. We also decided to preemptively put him on IV fluids.

At that point, I was feeling really crappy myself, and ended up curled up against a tree, sitting on the ground, keeping an eye on Roo before Kaity and Dad brought down chair and some provisions for me. That lasted a few minutes before I was bolting for the Robinson Flat meadow, hanging over the side of a log and puking. Which is pretty much unheard of for me.

I’ve since put together that I was dealing with a perfect storm of multiple factors – I don’t think I ate enough along the way, the smoke and air quality, it was hot and humid, I was way short on sleep, and it was my time of the month and the tights I was wearing were a bit too constrictive in the waistband and creating massive cramps. At the time, though, all I knew was I felt like crap and I just wanted to curl up and sleep it off. Theoretically it also could have been some fast-acting bug that hit me…but I really think it was just a horrible combo of all of the above factors colliding.

I am so, so grateful to my crew during this time period. Dad took care of me, Lucy took care of Roo, and Kaity got everything packed up and ready to go. Roo was cleared to go back to Foresthill, and Lucy travelled down with him. Back at FH, I learned the benefit of having several nurses around, and I got well taken care of – shoved into an air-conditioned trailer to lie down, given crackers and ginger ale, and then ordered into the shower after I had the chance to lay down for a bit. It probably took several hours for me to return to normal, but by late afternoon I was feeling much more like myself.

Back at FH, we ran some more fluids on Roo as a precaution (he was running a bit of a temperature, and we weren’t sure if it was because he was internally hot and a bit dehydrated, or fighting off some kind of bug), and we both were pretty much recovered and back to normal around the same time.

Lucy was also simultaneously doing live feed for the webcast, so while she stayed around to fulfill her webcast duties, Dad and I headed back to the house and Kaity brought Roo and the rig home. Roo hopped out of the trailer, bright-eyed and full of pep in his step, and I felt good about the decision I made. I don’t feel bad about exercising extra caution, especially when it’s not my horse.

And after that, I was done. I don’t even remember anything other than collapsing into bed, and not stirring until about 8 or so the next morning. Possibly later. I wanted Dad to experience the Haggin Cup judging, so we were out the door and over to the Fairgrounds in time for that, and then the awards banquet in the afternoon.

The rest of the trip looked a lot like previous Tevis years – pizza at Lucy’s Sunday evening, cram all my stuff back into suitcases, and then Dad and I flew home Monday early afternoon.

It took me a while to pull this story together, mostly because I was a real mix of emotions following Tevis, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it. I still don’t. Parts of it were wonderful, and then other aspects, not so much. I kind of hate to admit it, but there’s a part of me that feels like the whole thing was rather…anticlimactic. There, I said it. Is my perception colored by the fact I didn’t finish? Yeah, probably. Am I disappointed? Actually…no. It’s more of a relief, than anything, to find out that at the end of the day, it is another ride. Is the planning, and crew instructions, and all of that worth it? To me, it was and is…but that’s because I like planning and being organized. And given that I was up against probably some of the worst weather in recent Tevis history, between the heat, the humidity, and the air quality…and one of the lowest completion rates in recent history (42%, I believe), I have to look at all of that and overall, fell pretty good. Do I still want to do it again? Oh, heck yeah. I want that buckle, darn it.

Looking back, I can say that I really did have an overall positive experience, and really, that was what I was in it for – this time around – the experience, and at least getting to start. Now that I’ve got the whole “first Tevis” under my belt…now I want the buckle to put on my belt.

And yeah, despite the fact I’m 0/2 at them…I really love 100s.