September Summary

Per the calendar, today the supposed to be the last day of the monsoon season…but I grew up with the monsoon as being defined by starting whenever the weather went over a certain dew point for several days, and ending…whenever it felt like it, rather than arbitrary calendar days. And with a ride this morning of starting humidity of 60% (but temps are cooling off!), and a whole bank of lightning clouds off on the horizon first thing, I will be ignoring the weather people that think they know everything. Liberty is also starting to get a bit velvety-feeling on her coat, a precursor to the winter hair starting to come in. After a long summer, we are all beyond ready for cooler temperatures.

With the local ride season (“local” being defined as “4 hours or less of a drive for me”) getting ready to start next month, Liberty and I have been out racking up the miles. Our mileage total for Aug-Sept came to about 110 miles, with everything from 7-mile technical trail rides to a 20-mile preview run at Mingus Mountain and the latter part of the Man Against Horse course (a preview that helped contribute to my decision to drop our entry from the 50 to the 25, mostly because I need a confidence win after our rough spring season, and starting the fall with the toughest 50 in the state, after a summer of conditioning that, although it was fairly consistent, wasn’t exactly rigorous, or at least not the degree I ideally want to see before heading into that particular 50, wasn’t rattling around in my head as the smartest thought I’ve had).

One of my goals this summer has been “get out and ride in different places.” It’s too easy for me to fall into always going to the same convenient locations, but after riding many of those places for so many years already even prior to Liberty, I quickly get burned out on the same old-same old. Especially when those spots are overrun with other trail users. Some days I’m just not in the mood to deal or share my trails.

So in the last month, I’ve been able to revisit some trails I used to do with Mimi but were new to Libby, and then we’ve done some stuff that was totally new to both of us (including this morning, which I failed to get any photos of because we were boogieing along at such a good clip 98% of the time). It’s been fun to mix it up and keep things fresh and interesting for both of us, and really enjoyable to re-visit some of my old favorite riding spots.

I’ve done a mix of riding solo and riding with friends. Liberty is good either way. Solo is where we get a lot of our quiet bonding moments and can really further our connection. Riding with others is great training, both physically and mentally. She is versatile enough that I can ride her with anyone, and put her anywhere in a group. Following still tends to result in some negotiations about living her best llama life (“No, you are not going to run along behind them inverted with your head straight in the air because you don’t like that I’m asking you to not tailgate”) but she’s getting so much better, and I’m thrilled with how strong and forward but still sensible she has become.

For as active as my riding summer has been, I feel like I haven’t managed to blog about most of it. I still haven’t written this year’s Tevis crewing story, or about the new saddle (from Australia!) that I’ve been testing and riding in since early summer, gear testing (we’re not going to talk about how many bits I have added to my stash), the amazing response to the official formation of the AZ Endurance Riders Club…it’s been a really good summer around here, and I’ll try to catch up on the backlog.

With age comes the privilege of getting to free-graze around the barnyard.

Goals

At the last Arizona Endurance Riders Club learning event, the topic of discussion was on goal-setting within endurance. One of the beautiful things about this sport is how varied and encompassing those goals can be. Whether it’s starting out and having a goal of getting to and finishing your first ride, or setting your sights on Top Tenning at Tevis and showing for the Haggin Cup, and everything in between those two points…endurance seems to be able to accommodate a wide range.

It’s no secret that I have always dreamed big when it comes to this sport. I set my sights high, am willing to take risks and chances, and don’t always wait for the stars to be in 100% alignment before trying something…but that also means I’ve frequently fallen short of hitting those goals. And at least as of yet, it still hasn’t stopped me from dreaming and setting more goals.

If nothing else, this sport will teach resilience, and make you dig deep to hold on to your inner grit and determination. It teaches you how to re-frame disappointment and perceived failure.

“Complications arose, ensued, were overcome.”

Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Yeah, I know. Not your typical intellectual philosopher source…but highly accurate. A lot of the “adapt and roll with it, sometimes in the most ridiculous manner possible” attitude (and maybe a shot of rum) will go a long way.

And like I mentioned above, I set my sights high. I’ve got some goals that are much more immediately reachable, and others that are more of a nebulous, “work towards it in the future” type. But having some sort of goal is the first step…don’t know how to get there if you don’t know where “there” is. Once you know what you want, then you can figure out what it’s going to take to get to that point.

So, to that end…what are my goals? I figure I may as well share, as a way to hold myself accountable, and maybe to demonstrate that it’s okay to dream big, because you never know what might happen.

  • The most immediate goal right now is to make sure I’ve got Liberty’s soundness sorted out. I pulled our entry to the Flagstaff Cinders ride at the end of May at the last second when she still wasn’t looking 100% the Thursday before the ride. A lameness workup revealed a bit of arthritis in her pasterns, but second opinions have also looked at them and had the reaction of, “What am I looking at?” She is also growing out some gnarly stress rings on her hooves, concurrent to the timing of her spring vaccines, and has some fairly deep central sulcus cracks in her frogs, suggesting that she might be brewing some deep-seated thrush…both of which equal “sore feet.” After going down multiple rabbit trails, I keep circling back to that, as well as the adage of “no hoof, no horse.” Guess there really is a reason that came about. The good news is, I am well-versed in knowing how to deal with hoof stuff. To that end, I’ve been doing thrush treatments, as well as backing off on my usual slightly over-zealous trimming and giving her a little more hoof right now for support while those stress rings grow out.
  • I’ll be using this summer to really get her fitness and conditioning dialed in, and if I’m feeling like she’s “all systems go,” then our next stop will be aiming for the Grand Canyon XP ride at the end of August/beginning of September.
  • Obviously, a lot of my specific goals will hinge on having a horse that is sound and functional and able to compete. But trying to stay positive and operating on the belief that will be the case, there are certain things I would really like to achieve with Liberty in the fairly near future.
    • Let’s start with getting that actual 50-mile completion. (Third time’s a charm?)
    • Reach 1000 AERC endurance miles
    • Multi-day finish
    • A 50-mile finish/buckle at Man Against Horse
    • A 100-mile finish. Any 100 to start with. (I specifically need a 100-mile finish to qualify for one of my other goals)
      • Tevis finish
      • Virginia City 100 finish
  • Finish all of the “big buckle” 100s… Tevis, Virginia City, Big Horn, Old Dominion, AERC Natl Championships
  • Work up to riding competitively (There. I said it. I have an end goal in this sport of not just finishing rides, but to have the right horse and the endurance know-how to be able to have Top Ten finishes be a comfortably attainable thing.)
    • Which leads to being able to stand for Best Condition regularly. (One of the greatest thrills in my [limited] endurance career was showing for Best Condition at Bumble Bee with Flash. Although we missed BC by a few [weight] points, he did have High Vet Score, which just felt so good.)
  • And because my stateside goals aren’t enough…I so badly want to go back to Australia. Our family trip down there (back in 2004) netted a fabulous several days of “beach and bush” riding on seasoned endurance horses. There was initially some talking of doing an actual ride, but the way the timing happened, that didn’t end up working out, but it was still an amazing experience and one of the most fantastic adventures I’ve ever had. So I would love to do an actual Aussie endurance ride. More specifically, I really want to ride in the Tom Quilty (their Tevis equivalent). (This is the reason I need a 100-mile finish, because you have to have finished a 160k/100-miler as a qualifier before you can enter.)
    • I am also fascinated by their Shazada ride, which is a 5-day “marathon” ride of 80km (50 miles)/day — unlike our multi-days, where each day is a standalone ride, this ride is cumulative…you have to finish every day in order to complete, and if at any point along the way you get pulled, you’re done for the remainder. (I don’t know if I’m tough enough to pull this one off. To date, I’ve preferred 75s/100s to back-to-back 50s. But I’m intrigued enough to want to try, and in that regard, not afraid of a challenge.)

Honestly? I know some of this stuff is a reach right now. But as far I as know, no one has chiseled into stone, “You can’t be successful in endurance.” Some people reading this may be raising this eyebrows — myself included. I am probably my biggest doubter and limiter, because after a while, the failures start to take a toll. They breed little doubt-demons in the corners of your mind that pop up at inopportune moments, and make you question your knowledge and competence, and make you start feeling very down about the whole thing.

To counter that, thought, I’ve often joked that my spirit animal is the Whack-A-Mole. Because despite the failures and setbacks, the doubts, the school of hard knocks…I just keep coming back for more. The shelf that I put my audacious dreams on is a low one, always within easy reach and never far out of sight.

Completion Awards for last year’s Virtual Tevis

Last year’s Virtual Tevis was the first “event” Liberty and I did together as a “re-started” team. It was a good way to get those early conditioning miles on her, and motivation to get out and ride when I didn’t have any immediate ride plans on the horizon. My completion awards for it arrived last week…hot on the heels on me starting to make some whispered murmurs and contemplation about if Liberty just might be a Tevis horse.

I know. At this point…crazy. It’s been an inauspicious start this spring — this is the “on the job learning” that sometimes accompanies endurance, and sorting out the management needs of a new horse. But I also know the more I’m putting into her, the more I’m seeing a side and depth to her that I had no idea existed. She’s already shown me she had a lot of heart. But as her fitness levels are increasing, she’s also showing me she has a lot of go and enthusiasm.

As I wrote on Facebook last weekend, “she’s the kind of horse who makes the training and conditioning fun.” I know what it’s like to have the ones who don’t like conditioning rides. Or they’re a lot of fun at competitions, but in-between, conditioning rides can be anything but. That’s not the case with her. I have the same horse at home as I do at rides. (Well, she’s quite a bit more on the muscle for the first 5-10 miles at rides, but aside from that…) She doesn’t protest when the trail turns away from the trailer, or when I suggest that we add a few more miles and take a more circuitous route back. She tackles the trail with cheer and enthusiasm whether we are headed out or headed back to the trailer. She’s at the point now where I can tell she genuinely seems to enjoy being out there and really likes her job.

Additionally, she is taking the summer heat totally in stride. She adores single-track trail — there’s nothing like it to get her focused, and she is so athletic and agile, she goes zipping right through twists and turns and switchbacks. Mentally, nothing seems to faze her. Bikes, other trail traffic…she seems to love it. She busier the trail, the happier she is. She loves an audience, but she also doesn’t seem to mind being the only horse out in the desert all by ourselves. She’s got the EDPP part of endurance down to a science and has right from the get-go (this is the horse who started drinking 3 miles into the first ride I did with her). She is safe, has great trail sense (slows down and thinks versus barging through technical stuff), and doesn’t do anything stupid. I feel so safe and comfortable and confident on her.

In short, all those boxes they say a good Tevis horse should check? She checks. We just have to make sure we’ve got the physical end of things sorted out, and provided we do…I’ve got Tevis 2022 in my sights. Maybe it’s a bit audacious at this point, but I’ve got to have goals that keep me moving forward, and crawling out of bed at 3:30 in the morning to beat the worst of the heat in the summer. And mentally, I feel like I’m making this goal from a good place in the sense that it’s not an end-all, be-all, only-thing-that-matters sort of goal. It’s a really fun, ambitious goal to aim for…but I’m really excited about the journey along the way, the challenge to see if we can get to that point or not, and to enjoy the process. It’s not like she’s a green 5 year old who is not “life-hardened” at all…she’ll be 15 this upcoming weekend, and I recognize I have a more limited time frame in which to work with her than I would a youngster. Physically, she has maturity on her side, and has done some sort of work (albeit low-level) for most of her life.

So, we’ll see. It’s ambitious and audacious and eyebrow-raise worthy at this point, but if nothing else, putting these thoughts out there at least makes me hold myself accountable along the way.

Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2021

photo by Susan Kordish, AZ Cowgirl Photography

I think I am officially at the, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try (try-try-try-try-try) again” point. The short version: we went all 50 miles…and got pulled at the finish when she was off on the left front.

At the time, the working theory, after talking with one of the vets later in the afternoon and him assessing her, was she was footsore — she looked worse trotting out without her boots on, and I had made a potentially major user error and trimmed her only two days before the ride. I also didn’t do a great job of taking down her bars enough on one side, so that may have been a contributing factor.

Needless to say, with two pulls in a row, my anxiety is rather high once again. Our next ride is next weekend up in Flagstaff, and right now, I’m questioning everything. The part of me that hates failure is kind of ready to throw in the towel on the whole thing rather than risk another pull. And then the other part of my brain has no patience for that kind of thinking. I don’t know whether to believe “third time’s a charm” or “three strikes, you’re out.” My brain feels like a pinball machine cranked up to 12. The last couple of weeks have also been a stress-y, so that’s not helping.

In the meantime, while I suss out my endurance existential meltdown, I should probably talk about the previous ride from last month…which was pretty fantastic, right up until the moment it wasn’t, and I keep trying to remind myself that horses don’t know or care about things like records or official finishes…all the mare knows is that she went 50 miles, and that I was and am super proud of and pleased with her.

Arizona’s spring weather can best be described as “mercurial” (or via the meme of “You can’t fit all four seasons in one week.” ARIZONA: “Hold my beer and watch this.”) and while it was a month between rides, rather than a week, we went from the 27* and blizzarding of Old Pueblo to a predicted high of 87* and sunny for Bumble Bee. Well, both my mare and I are native-born Arizonans, so we should be able to cope with heat better than the cold…

I hit the road bright and early Friday morning to beat the heat, the worst of the Phoenix traffic, and to have plenty of time to relax and enjoy being in camp. My friend Cathy (my Tevis 2019 crewing rider) had saved me a spot in camp, and we had made plans ahead of time to ride together, or at least start together to give Liberty a steady, consistent-pacing friend to model herself after, versus constantly trying to hook onto and speed off with some of the faster-traveling horses like she kept trying to do at Old Pueblo.

That “rough road” sign was no joke. The dirt road into Bumble Bee was as bad as I’ve ever seen in, with the washboard worn down to the “can’t be graded smooth anymore” bare rock, largely due in part to the offroad vehicles discovering that area. I crawled along at 5mph in 4WD Low in some areas, and it still didn’t help avoid the massive vibrations and rattling. A week or so after the ride, I ended up needing to take the truck in for some major “hind end work” — that road was the last straw on the u-joints and one of the axles.

I had plenty of time to leisurely set up camp and visit with friends before heading over to check in, and then shortly thereafter, vet in. Liberty was really well-behaved for vetting, and she seemed to enjoy wandering around camp, sampling water troughs and socializing. It got pretty warm in the afternoon, so I opted to hang out in the shade with friends until the temperature dropped a little before before heading out for a short pre-ride ahead of dinner and ride briefing.

I slept pretty well for a pre-ride night, and was up early enough to go through my ride morning routine without feeling rushed. I’ve gotten away from doing any kind of morning feeds or concentrates for Liberty, so she got half a flake of grass hay and a small handful of alfalfa, just so she felt like she got “something” for breakfast.

I had plenty of time ahead of the start to walk Liberty around and get her warmed up, and Cathy and I headed out just about mid-pack at the start. I was so impressed with how much Liberty has matured over the years. This ride start was the one that, seven years ago, it took us almost 20 minutes to creep through the barnyard and all of its scary tools and machinery, and past the pen of equinivorous goats. (The goats have since passed on, but there are still some dogs in the pen.) This time, she sauntered right past everything, focused only on “get out to the trail.” This was also the same ride start location that she had crow-hopping fits on a couple of occasions, necessitating a lot of brain schooling and slow starts.

Well, it was worth taking the time way back when to address some of those issues, because I saw the payoff of that happen this weekend. Between the inherent age that comes with maturity, and her having positive learning experiences previously, she was straight to business on this morning, striding out at a working trot and only focused on moving out down the trail. Of course, we have now entered the stage of “pace negotiations,” where she thinks she is a lot fitter and can go a lot faster than she needs to at this point.

photo by John Kordish, AZ Cowgirl Photography

Fortunately, riding with Cathy was giving us a good “steadiness anchor” and we alternated back and forth with leading and following. The trail for the first 10 miles or so of this ride can be pretty fast, and it would have been all too easy to let her get swept up in zipping along at a faster pace and burn herself out too soon, when my goal was “finish with some gas in the tank.”

My favorite part of the course is along the Black Canyon Trail — it’s single track and winds along the foothills, twisting in and out and up and down. It’s super-fun, and I’ve always had a blast with Liberty in this section. She is super handy and absolutely loves single-track trail herself…I just sit back and let her do her thing.

The BCT section is about 7 miles long, and spits you out into this fun little wash/creek that runs alongside Bumble Bee Ranch. There is typically at least some water in there, which makes for a really fun and novel experience of splashing through the water.

Liberty had started drinking back around mile 10 at one of the cow troughs along the way, but when we hit the troughs set up outside of camp, she parked herself at them and spent several minutes tanking up. I lost track of how much she was drinking, but it was enough to necessitate a few minutes of walking after she was done, lest she start sloshing her way down the trail. I wasn’t sure what to expect at this point — previously, we had done the LD at the ride a couple of times, and the loop one trail veered into camp at the troughs. This time, the 50-milers loop one continued on and came into camp the longer, back way around…and I wouldn’t have been surprised to get a bit of a “but camp is that way” mutiny on my hands.

Color me pleasantly shocked when I pointed her up the wash and she kept cheerfully trucking, barely even sparing a glance back at camp. Although we had quite a few discussions along the way of this first loop, negotiating with her to keep the pace reasonable, and that she would not be tailgating on Cathy’s mare whenever we were following, I was rather thrilled with her cheerful, forward attitude. Having had numerous “pedal” moments at some of our early rides, I much prefer this version of her.

The vet check and hold was back in camp in-between loops, and I was fortunate enough to have Cristina offer to come by for part of the day and crew for me during the hold. I’m getting really spoiled by having crew at the last couple of rides! She met us as we came into camp, and because it was getting warm, we did strip tack (it was optional at this ride, but I’ve already played the “large, dark horse in the sun” game and knew it would probably be beneficial to pull her saddle off…especially if I had a crew to help schlep it around.

In the couple minutes that it took to pull the saddle, let her drink, and slosh some water on her, Liberty’s pulse was down, so we headed over to P&R, and from there, vetting. I forgot to take a picture of the vet card, but I want to say her pulse was something like 52, and all As from what I remember. Tons of energy still, and a very nice trot-out.

Cristina got Liberty all settled with a sloppy mash, and even sponged her all clean, while I got my own lunch, and changed into a short-sleeve shirt for the warmer afternoon. I even had time to do a quick tack change of swapping out bits, ditching the (hated) running martingale, and pulling out a clean saddle pad. I have to say, I do love the convenience aspect of in-camp checks, having everything right there, and not having to pack a crew bag.

The hour hold flew by pretty quick, and then Cathy and I were on our way on loop 2. The first part of the loop is definitely slow-going. Called the “Miner Bob Loop” for the miner who holds one of the mining claims partway through the loop, the trail spends part of the loop winding in and out of another wash/stream, with a lot of rocks and rough footing. There are also a couple of sizable climbs along the way. It’s not a place you can ever make time, so the ride strategy is to trot whenever you have a clear area; otherwise, walk the rocks.

Fortunately, the Miner Bob loop is only a portion of the whole second loop (about 9 miles), and with the number of water crossings we had, the horses stayed well-hydrated. With only a couple miles to go on the loop, Cathy ended up slowing down and sending me on ahead — she was concerned about the toll the rocks were taking on her mare, who was starting to feel footsore, so she was going to wait at the next accessible point along the trail for her husband to bring her a pair of boots with pads in them. But in the meantime, she didn’t want me slowed up, so she waved me on and insisted that I keep going.

With only minor encouragement, Libby left her trail buddy behind, and we forged onward by ourselves. I really enjoyed riding with Cathy — we get along well, and always have a ton to talk about — but I also cherish my solo time with my mare. I’ve had some of the best moments with her when we’ve been by ourselves on the trail, and this ride was no exception. We caught up to and ended up passing one small group of horses, and from that point on, all the way into the finish, we had the trail to ourselves.

The same seven-mile stretch of the BCT that we came down in the morning, we now were heading up. It’s a deceptive uphill grade, and a lot of the trail is pretty easy to move out on and forget you’re constantly going uphill. But being by ourselves, I was able to get a feel for where she was at physically and mentally, and I was blown away by her good life choices. She knew exactly when to dial it back, and when to pick up, when to give herself a break, and when to keep cruising. I barely touched my reins through this section, and still felt so in tune with her.

It was definitely still warm out, although fortunately we had a really nice breeze, and that was a major help in the evaporative cooling angle. Several times I reached down to touch her neck or shoulder and was surprised by how she felt — with her dark coat and larger size, I fully expected her to retain a lot of heat but between the breeze and her own pace regulating, she was doing a great job of shedding heat and keeping herself comfortable.

She continued to drink like a fish through this entire loop, and got quite indignant when I made her bypass one trough on the way back to camp because it had a dozen cows surrounding it. (There was another trough only a mile down the trail, but she was quite miffed at the bovine blockade.)

I was so pleased with her attitude the whole way back to camp. She was still cheerful and happy to move out, and I was letting her set the pace — walk breaks when she wanted, pick up again when she was ready. Something that I found absolutely fascinating was my own mental state when I was out there — I never hit a wall myself. I never found myself thinking, “Ugh, I just want to be done. Ugh, how much further do we have?”

Now, I know some of that was a conscious choice to keep my own spirits up — she is such a sensitive, intuitive horse who is so tuned in to me, that I knew if I let myself start thinking that way, it would likely lead to her doing the same thing. This would be the furthest she had ever gone (although, 42 miles at Old Pueblo, so this wouldn’t be too much longer…) and I wasn’t sure if at some point she would decide, “What the heck are we doing out here still…” so I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to I wasn’t inadvertently contributing to that.

The other thing was, I was genuinely enjoying myself. I love riding this horse so much. I was relishing the time out there by ourselves, I knew we still had plenty of time left on the clock and didn’t have to rush in, and I was in no hurry to end our day. (I fully admit there have been some horses and some rides that I could not wait for it to be over.) Honestly, that sort of thing hasn’t happened to me very much at rides. There’s typically at least some point along the way that I feel totally over it, and if some magic ride fairy wanted to snap her fingers and teleport me and my horse back to the trailer, I would be quite okay with it. But this time…not the case. Mentally, I was feeling good; physically, I was feeling good.

We made our way back in to camp, finishing somewhere around 4:15 after a 6am start. Minus the one hour hold, that put us at a ride time of 9:15, which I was very happy with for the goal of “finish the 50 with gas in the tank and don’t run the clock down.”

By the time I hopped off, loosened the girth, and sponged her neck while she tanked up, her pulse was down, and we headed over to vet. Parameters were all great…until it came to the trot-out. Never mind she had trotted into camp feeling totally even…some time in that maybe ten minutes between coming in to camp and vetting, she was now off on the left front.

Further consulting with one of the other vets later that afternoon netted the strong possibility that what we were seeing was foot soreness/stone bruise since she was worse without her boots on. And here’s the part where I admit I screwed up: like I mentioned at the start of this tale, I trimmed her on Thursday before the ride. I got overambitious and took off probably more than I should in an attempt to correct some wayward hoof balance issues…and also got sloppy in not taking off enough bar on…guess where? That left front. I mean, I know better…my rule has always been no trimming any closer than the weekend before a ride. (Which means I do some minor touch-ups this weekend and then the rasp gets buried out of sight.)

At the time, I was bummed by not officially completing, but overwhelmingly pleased with how well she had done all day. I was blown away by how mentally strong she was, and she had taken excellent care of herself all day long with eating and drinking. I did a good job of holding up my end of the deal in terms of being an active participant — I got off and walked down some of the rocky downhill spots, I got off and electrolyted her along the way multiple times, I took care of myself, and had so much fun.

The few things that didn’t work:

– Her leg wraps (the hinds were down around her pasterns like little bracelets versus protecting her fetlocks — first time using them and I didn’t get them snug enough, so had to correct that partway through the first loop; and the front splint boots rubbed the backs of her fetlocks — not raw or sore, but took the hair off in a couple of spots).

– My own feet were sore afterwards and it took about a week to get full feeling back in a couple of little toes (this is the second time this has happened and I’m wondering if it’s my own boots, which are heavier and have a narrower toe box than the other Terrains I’ve worn previously).

– Running martingale — I used it on the first loop because I didn’t want a repeat of Old Pueblo, where she emulated an inverted llama…but she hates it. Much fussing and protest, even with it rigged very loose. I took it off on loop 2 and she was much better. I don’t know whether that’s because she had 25-ish miles under her girth, or she was happy without the martingale, but I think I’m going to give it a try going without again at Flagstaff…or maybe start with it and drop it as soon as I can out on the trail versus waiting to get back to camp.

– Itchy/rubbing. She wants to rub and itch on everything, so that’s a work in progress. Especially things like water troughs, buckets, or me when I’m standing there trying to get her pulsed down or vetted through.

– The previously-discussed trimming/soreness

– Not actually getting a completion. Honestly…finish line pulls suck, there is just no other way around it.

Immediately after the ride, I was riding the high of how well she had done…but of course, after a month of having too much time to dwell on my own thoughts, I start second-guessing myself and doubting myself. I know everyone has failures, and pulls, and plenty of steep learning curves along the way, and I’m not unique in this regard. I obviously really love this crazy sport, though, because I can’t think of too many other things I would persistently pursue with this level of relentless whack-a-mole tendencies, regardless of some of the less-than-stellar outcomes. And that, my friends, is the magic of endurance.

Anyway, keep fingers and hooves crossed for us that next weekend at Flagstaff will be “third time’s a charm.”

Liberty: Then and Now

photos by AZ Cowgirl Photography

A bit of a placeholder while I work on my Bumble Bee write-up, which is extensive as usual. April marks my anniversary month with Liberty as far as “the first time I rode her” goes. It was at the Prescott Chaparral ride in 2013, and you can read that particular story here.

It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since I first met her, and that much time has gone by…but at the same time, I also feel like I’ve know her for a lifetime with how comfortable and connected I am with her. Which is kind of remarkable given that it’s not even been a full year since I brought her home, and prior to that, I only rode her on 5 different occasions over the course of three separate years.

The differences of then and now crack me up — she was balking at the photographer, and “forward” was very much not in her vernacular, instead being perfectly content to casually mosey through our rides. (The plus side of this was she never learned a race brain.) Now…she has learned to show off and put her best hoof forward, loves seeing the photographers on trail, and 25 miles into the 50-miler at Bumble Bee, we were still having some negotiations as to speed and that we were not going to go as fast as she was offering to go.

I love that she had such a low-key, easy upbringing, because it’s resulted in a horse that has a phenomenal brain, has handled everything I’ve thrown at her without batting an eye, and has no significant “baggage” that has to be undone. There are still things she’s learning but she’s a blank enough slate and such a quick study that it takes almost no time for her to catch on and figure out a concept.

The other funny thing is the only thing that has remained consistent between the two photos is her boot color. Everything — from tack color and setup to saddle and saddle pad, my own gear, even my hair color — has changed over that period of time. She’s gone from soft and fluffy to sleek and fit. And as for myself…in the first photo, I see an impatient, insecure control freak of a rider who opted for the “pony club kick” methodology of communication…versus someone whose main goal now is softness and effective communication. While I’ve always looked to improve myself and my horsemanship over the years, this horse has done more, in the shortest amount of time, to make me grow as a horsewoman, and I feel like our partnership only keeps improving as we forge ahead together.