Post-Game Analysis: Wickenburg 25

As always, I was mixing up/messing around with gear…girl’s gotta have a hobby, right?

The biggest change was using one of Gina’s spare saddles: a Frank Baines Reflex dressage, fully kitted out with extra rings and such for endurance. I’d been having problems with the Duett leaving Liberty with a sore back (that was a first for me…) and after some examination, concluded that the tree was likely too flat for her, coupled with it being maybe just a touch narrow, thus further tipping it back on her loins.

The FB fit her really well (holy wide tree…FB’s 4W tree, which is the largest they offer in that model!) and it was surprisingly comfortable for me. At an advertised 17″ (although I measured it at 17.5…) it’s maybe just a touch small, especially with the deeper seat and higher cantle, but it was super-secure and I felt really comfortable and balanced in it…so it’ll work for now.

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Meet Frank. Frank has only been used once before this and still smells like new leather. ♥

In my quest to find/make the perfect saddle pad, I had obtained a sheet of Supracor material, chopped it up into the appropriate shapes, and stuffed them into one of my existing Skito pads. It worked fabulously — I’m a fan of the support of the Supracor material, which doesn’t collapse and compress under pressure the way most the foams do, and it’s really breathable. Making inserts was 1) Cheaper than getting a new Supracor pad and 2) allowed me to use my favored wool underside of the Skito pad.

I used a rope halter under her s-hackamore headstall instead of the beta halter — it takes up a little less space, especially under the chin, and didn’t seem to interfere quite as much. (Even if I do like the look of the beta halter better…*sigh*)

For whatever reason, I switched back to the curb chain on the hackamore — thinking it might be longer/have a little more space than the solid strap — but that was a mistake. She’s definitely sensitive to too much curb pressure, and tucks her head and gets way behind the vertical when you apply contact. (And I ride with contact, which is why she’s generally pretty bold and not spooky, because she knows I’m up there, and I can feel when she’s getting tense or looky and give her a bit of leg or rein as necessary versus waiting until she’s already spooking halfway across the trail.)

So I rode carefully for the first part of loop 1, then swapped out the bottom solid hobble strap off the hack with the chain and the rest of the loop went way easier, and then once back at camp, replaced it with the solid curb strap.

I’m also going to switch out her hackamore noseband, because despite the “training“, the padded one still ends up flattening out versus draping nicely, and that makes it harder to put the bridle on without it being really tight around her nose. (I also may experiment with some kind of “hook” mechanism on the curb strap, kind of like the curb chain on a kimberwick that can easily be hooked or unhooked.)

25 miles has left me convinced I’m not a fan of the  Gaston Mercier “comfort” leathers. Great concept, questionable execution: wider and more padded leather uppers, with the more narrow and flexible beta straps from which to hang your stirrups as the lower part. Unfortuantely, the d-ring that the beta straps hang from hits me right in the middle of my calf and creates a ton of pressure, even through the thickly-padded leather (and I was wearing half chaps). It’s possible that getting a longer padded section would alleviate this (or it would just move the pressure point to lower down onto my unpadded ankle bone)…but the company was such a pain to try to work with (customer service oriented…not!) and I had to jump through so many hoops to try to get them in the first place that I’m loathe to attempt another pair…especially since I provided height and inseam measurements and relied on their opinion and expertise for the size I need, since my height puts me somewhat between sizes.

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I will probably go back to my old standby of Webbers + fleece covers, although the Australian fenders idea has me curious…

For stirrups, I had a pair of Amidale ones that I was trying for the first time. They were actually pretty good…certainly no worse than anything I’ve tried in the past, and possibly even better…only noticed a tiny bit of foot pressure developing, and that was during our endless walking campaign over the last few miles. Definitely worth trying out some more.

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Amidale stirrups…of course, the best part is they’re orange!

I had to do some problem-solving with her boots along the way. We started in Classics all around (due to materials/color testing), with Viper heel captivators on her hinds after discovering her lameness from Bumble Bee most likely came from a rock getting under the captivator and creating a cut/crease between her frog and heel bulb. (She has very well shaped and defined heel bulbs, which means there’s actually a tiny pocket of space between her bulbs on the Classic captivator, which has a slightly flatter profile. Not normally an issue…unless you’re riding in some very deep and rocky sandy.)

About 5 miles into the ride, after some significant slogging through sand wash, I noticed her develop a subtle-but-consistent head bob on what looked like the left front. She had gotten quite a bit of sand in her boots, and even some small rocks between her toe and the boot toe. When that happens, it pushes the hoof backwards, and in effect creates a “tight” captivator, the same thing that happens if the cables are not the proper length or the tension strap is fastened too tight. She was responding to the pressure on her heels, and as soon as I pulled the offending boots, she started trotting just fine, no head bob.

She’s a good illustration of “select the proper shape of boot for your horses hooves, especially wen doing high-performance tasks.” Her toe angle naturally sits lower than the Classic shell toe angle, even on a super-fresh trim and appropriately short toes. When that happens, it creates a gap at the top of the boot shell that then allows sand to enter into the boot shell at a rate faster than it can empty out of the back of the boot.

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You can see the differences. While her feet aren’t necessarily that round (she fits into more oval-proportioned Viper sizes of 140×135 and 140×130), in her case, it’s the angles and captivators that make a difference

I replaced her boots with Vipers at the lunch hold, and we did the second half of the ride, which also had significant amount of sand — everything from fine, powdery dust to pebbly gravel — and when we finished, she didn’t have any sand accumulated in her boots. Lesson learned: She has Viper hooves/heel bulbs, and in high performance hoof booting, attention to detail matters.

We’ve had a bit of an unseasonal heat wave this spring and the ride day was predicted to be a high of 83°, so I took the time Friday afternoon to braid Liberty’s very long, somewhat thick, mane. It served the purpose of helping to keep her cool, and it actually gave me easier handholds than trying to grab her flying mane.

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Lots of mane to braid

As for myself, though I prefer to be unencumbered by it, I did wear a hydration pack — the same one I’ve used for running, the UltrAspire Astral. I definitely drink much better from a pack versus bottles, and I drank about 40oz of water on loop 1 and drained the pack (60oz) on loop 2. It also didn’t make my shoulders/neck muscles hurt any worse than not wearing it.

I also wore Kerrits IceFil from head to toe: IceFil Tech Tights (I got a pair when they originally came out and I really didn’t like them…weird waistband that sags, hot material…but I loved the pockets and the low-profile silicone grips. They did a re-design to them, featuring a wider and more elastic waistband, and the material feels different and cooler, so I snagged a pair, and I’m glad I did.) and a long-sleeve IceFil shirt. I’ve had the shirt for a bit now, and while I’ve done some hiking (Grand Canyon backpacking trip!) and running in it, I hadn’t used it at a ride. So glad I did — I feel like it really made a difference in keeping me cool, as well as sun-protected, without having to mess with sunscreen. Must get more…I think I may become Queen of Sunshirts.

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UltrAspire Astral pack, IceFil shirt, IceFil tights, Jodz half chaps, Ariat Terrain boots, Tipperary Sportage helmet, Buff headwrap under helmet.

I also did pretty well in the food department: squeezie applesauce, Clif ShotBloks, Bounce energy ball/bar, and string cheese out on trail; ham, string cheese, pudding, and protein smoothie at lunch.

I electrolyted Liberty Friday evening, and then after we finished on Saturday…thinking I probably could have done some at lunch for her? She drank really well out on trail, and her vet scores were all excellent, but she is a larger-bodied, dark-colored horse…my gut tells me she may be one I end up messing around with e’lyte protocols on, especially as temps and distance increases. (But she’s got to get better with the syringe. Right now, she’s even more of a pain than Mimi…which is saying something.)

I think that pretty much covers it…if there’s something I didn’t mention, or you want more info about, just let me know in the comments!

Ride Story: Wickenburg’s Land of the Sun 25 2016

I apologize for the complete lack of brevity in the regaling of this tale. It truly turned into one of those Milestone Rides for us, and I’m trying to capture every moment of it.

Getting the Wickenburg ride to come back has been an event several years in the making — the last time it was held was the last time I rode it, back in 2010. It came back under new management, and a new ridecamp location (the fabulous Boyd Ranch, which is totally worth the 8-mile drive on rutted dirt roads to get back to it)…but like all new, or essentially new, ride, there tend to be some kinks to work out, and you know going in to a first-time ride that you as the rider are going to be something of a guinea pig.

At this particular ride, it was the trail itself that would prove to be the greatest challenge and need the most ironing out — very technical, with a lot of rocks, climbing, and deep sand, with not enough areas to safely move out to balance it out and be able to make up time. Ultimately, we came in overtime, but the fact that we unexpectedly ended up going it alone for most of the ride — the first time Liberty has done that — I was really happy with the outcome, and it was the absolute best learning and training experience I could have hoped for.

Wickenburg is a “local” ride for me — only about 2 hours away, including the last 8 miles of really rough, washboard dirt road that can take about 30 minutes alone if you’re hauling a trailer. (The road should have served as a preview of the terrain that was to come…)

Kirt and Gina were only about 10 minutes behind me, so I secured a good spot in camp (on the outskirts, but we had room to spread out and set up the electric pens). They had brought the usual suspects of my Liberty, Yankee for Gina, and Wicked (the big grey mare who is Liberty’s pasture-mate…it’s good for her to get the trailering and camping exposure…and good “oh, yes, you will leave your BFF” training for Liberty…)

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ponies in pens…Liberty, Wicked, Yankee

While Kirt set up the pens, Gina and I went and checked in and grabbed our ride packets, then pulled horses out and gave them a thorough brushing before heading over to vet in. (Shedding season…I scraped quite a bit of hair off Libby.)

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hydrating before vetting

I’ll be the first to say it: Liberty was a brat for vetting. She was fussy about letting the vet look at her mouth (although she did stand nicely for getting her temperature taken), her pulse was a little high (44) since she was excited over leaving Wicked back at the trailer, and then she had to trod on my foot during our trot-out (trail running and endurance riding: Toenails Optional), which earned her an impromptu schooling session (and a second trot-out). Still needs some more work in the Manners Department.

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The predicted forecast was going to be warm: 83°, and while I wished for clippers, I settled for mane braiding on both Liberty and Yankee. Their hooves needed a bit of attention, so they each got a trim, I checked boot fit and did some adjusting (even with a trim, I wasn’t loving how the Classic shells fit her…keep this in mind for later…), and then gathered tack together for the morning.

I haven’t been happy with how the Duett has worked, or rather, not worked, on her, since she’s been sore in the loins every time, even with three different saddle pads. Irony: All of the horses I’ve catch-ridden, she’s been the only one it hasn’t worked on. Fortunately, Gina had a spare saddle I could try: a Frank Baines Reflex dressage saddle, fully kitted out with all the necessary rings and such for endurance. I put it on the saddle stand, sat my own butt in it and determined it felt good enough to at least start the ride in (could always switch at lunch if need be), and then checked the fit on Liberty. I liked how it sat on her, and there’s a little more rock in the tree than the Duett, which is where I think I was running into problems. Also: She’s a tank. The tree is the 4W, which is the widest tree they offer in that particular model. It’s also a monoflap, and substantially lighter than my ridiculously-heavy Duett.

I also electrolyted Liberty and Yankee at this point, knowing the next day was going to be warm. Liberty hates syringes and electrolytes (oh, yay, another one…) so there was Drama and head flinging and electrolytes splattered everywhere…but we eventually got it done…and Yankee was a good boy and took his without complaint.

One of the perks offered at this ride was dinner on both Friday and Saturday night, so around 5ish, we wandered down to the pavilion where management and volunteers had an appetizer spread ready while the dinner of beans, several kinds of pulled pork, coleslaw, and tortillas were being set out.

Ride meeting was really brief — pretty sure there were still people trickling in as the meeting was wrapping up — although it covered the salient points: “Follow these color ribbons on these loops, watch for the chalk arrows/lines/numbers on the ground, when in doubt read your maps with trail descriptions, hold times and pulse parameters are ‘x’ and ‘x’.” (I’m not a fan of long ride meetings, so I appreciated the brevity.)

It was nice to have had enough time in the afternoon to get everything I needed to done, so the evening was relaxing, and I even managed to get to bed in decent time, aided by my new BFF, a tab of melatonin, which helps with my “first-night-in-new-place-plus-pre-ride-jitters” restlessness. I give myself plenty of time (2+ hours before the start) on ride mornings to slowly wake up, dress, make coffee, force myself to nibble on something (green juice smoothie, poptart, banana), then boot/tack up.

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tacked up and almost ready to go…just need bridles

We were tacked up and ready to go by the time the 50s started, but both Yankee and Liberty were fairly “up” so I took a few minutes to have Liberty walk/slow trot some circles around me and get her brain re-focused before I mounted. She had some moments of wanting to twirl around and head back to the trailer while we were walking over to the start, so I did a lot of walking, and circles, and making her pay attention to me, before we headed over to check in at the start line.

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antsy-pants displaying her favorite indiscretion: pawing

I made one mistake, and I realized it as soon as we started: I had swapped the solid curb strap back to the one with the chain (why???) and I knew immediately it was too much for her, as she tucked her head extremely behind the vertical and got very fussy. *sigh* Too late to change now…but it meant I had to be extremely conscious of how much contact I was using (not as much as I prefer, especially at a ride start). Fortunately, she was much better behaved this time, only hopping a couple of times over the whole passing/being passed thing and then really settling in after the first mile or so (versus the first 6 miles at Bumble Bee). She really does get better and more mature with every ride.

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walking over to the start…so excellently matchy-matchy

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heading out at the start…oh, look, it’s part giraffe.

We were sitting about middle of the pack for the first couple of miles, but then the trail quickly turned into deep, uphill sand wash…which neither Yankee or Liberty are legged up for doing much by way of speed work in. So we walked. And people passed us. And we walked some more. We hit some nicer sections of double-track road where we were able to move out…but neither Liberty nor Yankee were feeling particularly like being the Brave Leader, so did a lot of yo-yoing back and forth where one would surge ahead, then the other…it was like riding equine bumper cars.

It was during one of these trotting sections in a not-as-deep sand wash that Liberty started doing a mild-but-consistent head bob on her left front. (Remember, it was her RH she was off on at Bumble Bee.) Uggghhhh. Gina noticed that her boots had accumulated quite a bit of sand, even some small rocks jammed down in the front toe flap, pushing the shell forward and creating the same effect on the captivator as over-tightening the cables would do — pressure on the bulbs and somewhat limiting the movement of the captivator. Apparently I’ve got two horses that are “particular” about their preferred model of boot/captivator.

I pulled the offending boot off, climbed back on…and she trotted off sound. Riiiiggggghhhhtttt…memo to self: “Viper shells and captivators only on this horse from now on.”

Shortly after this point, we pulled off the trail to let a couple of people pass us, and as the last horse passed by, she kicked out and nailed Yankee right in the chest! Seriously?!? What next?!?

Fortunately, Yankee seemed fine, but we took our time, just to make sure — because of course right after this we would be leaving the wash and heading up some very rocky, technical climbs. After climbing out of the wash, there was a water stop/number check. Neither horse drank here, although Liberty drank a little bit at the first water stop (~3 miles in).

Heading out from the water stop, I managed to get Liberty to stay in front for more than twenty feet of trotting…and then all of a sudden she bobbled and started three-legged hopping, kicking out with her right hind leg. I immediately jumped off, and as far as we could tell, it looked like Yankee had crowded her from behind and possibly stepped on her hind boot. Again, this was her “off at Bumble Bee” leg, so I don’t know if it could have been something to do with the weird split that had developed between her frog and bulb (best we could tell at BB, a rock got under her captivator), or what was going on.

So now her hind boots got removed, and I was going to take her totally barefoot. (At the speeds we were going, that was hardly my biggest concern. She also has amazing, rock-crushing hooves from growing up in the desert and running on acreage her entire life.) I hand-walked her for a bit, probably about half a mile, just to make sure she was okay, before climbing back on.

Just when you think, “okay, we’re in the clear, right?”…Gina and Yankee are leading, heading up another technical, very rocky and steep climb that involves cutting a sharp right and then left to stay on the trail and out of the worst of the rocks. Only Yankee doesn’t cut right, but tries to just go left, over-corrects, does a “four legs in eight directions” flail, gathers himself up enough to get back on the trail…and then does it again. Liberty isn’t fazed by any of this, but when we get to the top of the hill, Yankee is off on one of his front legs. Nothing obvious, but he’s ouchy.

So we get off and start hand-walking again. Yankee isn’t improving, so Gina tells me “get back on and keep going, you don’t need to stay with me.”

Easier said than done, since Liberty has had very little solo training time, and never at a ride. Well, what’s a ride other than on-the-job training, right?

I got Liberty trotting away, but every time we would get out of eyesight of Yankee, she would slam to a stop and wait until she could see him again, then get moving. Needless to say, we were not making great progress until we hit a spot of shared trail with the 50s, and I was able to catch a tow from a couple of friends, enough to get us moving and for Liberty to realize “not alone out here. Maybe not going to die.” (Thanks, Cathy and Elaine, for letting me tag along!)

The shared trail split off at that point, but we had gotten far enough ahead of Yankee that Liberty was rolling along nicely…and the internal compass was pointed “due camp.” Photographers John and Sue Kordish were set up along this loop, and for the first time, Libby didn’t even pause to stare at them…so I got some nice trotting action photos of us!

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photo: Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography 

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photo: Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography 

Shortly after passing Sue, the trail opened up to this fairly smooth, wide, level dirt road…and I got to do something I’ve been dying to do…canter Liberty. In the past, I’ve been tempted, but have held back, not wanting her to learn too early on that canter was an acceptable option, especially during the start and early-on ride excitement. I am also not brave when it comes to cantering new/strange horses…it is the gait where I feel the least secure and comfortable, like I can be all-too-easily off-loaded if they spook or buck…but now, the timing felt right.

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photo: Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Fortunately, she has apparently been trained in the standard canter cue (sit, kiss, little bit of rein, use one heel to cue) and moved right into this lovely, rolling canter.

*cue heavenly choir of angels singing*

She has one of the most wonderful canters I’ve ridden. Smooth, powerful, efficient…and perfectly controllable. And completely business-like — it was like she just locked onto the trail and had no interest in anything other than steadily moving forward. I have a feeling I will be working her up to this and utilizing it to great effect in the future.

We cantered for probably less than a quarter mile, then I broke her down to a trot to navigate through some rough areas, and then when the trail spit us onto the big dirt road leading to camp, I got one more canter in. (Super pleased with how responsive she was…and it didn’t make her rushy or at all race-brained to be allowed to move out…she came right back to a trot and walk as soon as I asked.)

So I basically power-trotted and cantered the last mile into camp, and hopped off right at the gate and hand-walked in the last 100′ or so to the in-timer. (Y’know…”how to bring a horse in nice-n-easy for pulsing down…”) I let her drink while I sponged her, and then she insisted on being allowed to munch on some of the alfalfa and bran mash that was sitting right there…so by the time I got her sponged and she got her initial munchies fulfilled, it took 5 minutes to pulse. I had the volunteer check her right when we came in and she was up at 80, then dropped to 70, hung there for a minute…and then when she checked her again a minute later, she had dropped to 52. (Criteria was 60, I believe. Or 64. Maybe 64 was the finish?)

She vetted out with all As — and was better behaved this time, although she still didn’t like the vet messing with her mouth. Her trot-out was excellent and she stayed right with me and didn’t use my feet for target practice.

Back at the trailer, I was surprised to see the corral was empty, and figured Kirt was maybe taking Wicked out for a walk around camp to keep her from missing her buddies. Well, I was partially right…he ended up saddling her up and taking her out on the fun ride! (Which was the same trail as loop 1 of the LD.) So Liberty had to stand at the trailer, all by herself, and alternate between drinking, eating, pawing, and screaming for her lost BFF. (And the learning experiences just keep on coming.)

I got her a bucket of water and flake of alfalfa, sponged a little more of the sweat off of her, and left her to her own devices for a little bit while I refilled my water pack, used the bathroom, and grabbed some lunch for myself. I took a couple of minutes of downtime to send a quick text update to friends/family, then got back to work: swapping out the curb strap on the hackamore, fishing my riding crop out (I knew we would need the  extra encouragement if we were going to do the second loop all by ourselves), and re-booting her with Vipers on her fronts.

Gina got back with Yankee partway through my hold — the vet had taken a look and hadn’t found anything on his leg that would indicate tendon or ligament involvement, so it was likely that he probably tweaked something in his fetlock area. Gina said the vet had pulled a large, inch-long thorn out of Yankee’s leg as well (probably from a crucifixion thorn bush, fairly common to the area, with thorns that are larger/sturdier than cactus spines).

Liberty was good about walking away from camp — we had about 3 minutes to wait at the out-timer, and she did some circling and calling at that point, but with a little “hand on the halter and point in the right direction” assist from Gina, we got out on the trail — trotted out of camp, woohoo!! Which lasted all of 100 yards before we saw 50s coming in from one of their loops, and she had to stop, scream, and try to go with them. A couple of solid whacks with the crop got her persuaded that listening to me was the better idea, and he headed out on Loop 2A. There were more parts in this loop where we were able to move out — nice single-track running atop ridgelines — and then more technical climbs in and out of some big washes.

Towards the end of this loop, we encountered Kirt and Wicked on a section of shared trail. What are the odds, right? Of course, neither mare wanted to separate from the other, so we both ended up jumping off and walking our recalcitrant mares away from each other down our respective trails. I ended up having to hand-walk Liberty for about half a mile before she stopped her screaming and twirling (with several “discussions” along the way about respecting personal space) and I was able to get back on and keep jamming down the trail.

To pick up the second part of the loop (Loop 2B) we had to cross in front of the ranch — more fun convincing the big mare that we were *not* going down the same in-trail we had earlier. Once I got her un-stuck and past that point, we swung by the water trough that was out and she drank well — impressive for her still being mentally keyed up and wanting to join her buddies — and then started into the second part of the loop.

We passed photographer Sue again, and then almost immediately, a cluster of 50s come up on us. Very good news for us: It was Stephanie DuRoss and her group, and they didn’t have any problem with me falling in with them and catching a tow for the next several miles of shared trail. (Thank you, Taylor, Steph, and Kecia!) Another excellent learning experience: Liberty had to be the caboose in a train of strange horses that she didn’t know, and had to choose to either act like a grown up and follow them, or end up on her own again (remember her “omg, stange horses, I must bounce up and down and act like I don’t know what another horse is” antics from Bumble Bee?). She decided that New Friends were a very good thing indeed and it was a sad time when our shared trails parted ways and we had to go forth on our own yet again.

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photo Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography 

We did some pretty good climbing, basically cross-country, and I’d coax a bit of a trot out of her on smooth sections here and there, but basically we walked. At about 2.8-3mph. Speed demons, us. ;) I also started singing at this point as a way to keep both of our spirits up…it’s a good thing we were alone, since I’m not exactly musically gifted.

Eventually the single-track spit us down and around into a large wash, but shallower and running slightly downhill, so we were able to get into a pretty good trot rhythm. I have pretty good navigational and “point of reckoning” skills, and I knew camp was basically on the other side of the hills we were winding our way through…so when we came upon one of the number checkers, I asked how far we were from camp…”oh, probably another 45 minutes to an hour.”

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so much sand wash

Oh. So much for the hope that the ride would “measure short” and we were just around the corner from being done.

We had about 20 minutes left on the clock as this point, so I knew we weren’t going to make it, time-wise…which totally took the pressure off. Sure, we weren’t going to finish in time, but we were going to stay out there and finish the course.

Once out of the washes, we went through a really pretty section of single-track that wound through some trees and grass before spitting us out into a big open flat field with the single-track cutting straight through it, leading to the next water stop. It was here that Liberty had her one big spook of the whole ride…at a century plant next to the trail. She did a pretty impressive sideways spook with about a quarter of a spin…enough to just slightly unseat me, but a handful of mane braids (and the fact she stopped) kept me in place, she got a boot in the side for her troubles, and we proceeded onward to the water tank.

It was a Super Scary water stop, with a windmill and shed and lots of stuff right around the trough, but she stopped and really tanked up. There’s a rough formula of ~30 swallows = 1 gallon (give or take, depending on horse size and gulp capacity), so just for fun, I counted her swallows…ended up being right around 50 swallows, so she had almost 2 gallons in one go! Gooooooood mare! (She is really good at EDPP on trail…very self-preserving and takes care of herself and her rider. That right there is solid gold.)

We had to “tiptoe” past the old building and wooden corrals, and then I let her walk for a few minutes after her large drink. Finally, finally, the trail turned back towards camp, and we got some more forward motivation…that lasted until we encountered the Dead Barrel Cactus of Doom laying right next to the trail. Since we were surrounded by cholla, and there was no good “go around” option, we stood there quietly until she inched her way past it, step by step. After that, we kind of hit our wall, as the trail was very twisty and turny, rocky, and lined with enough cholla that trotting didn’t seem like an  inviting option.

So we walked. And we walked. And we walked some more. I worked my way through a pack of Clif energy ShotBlocks and drained the rest of my water pack. A few short trot bursts through sand and some flatter stuff, but more up and down cross-country rocky stuff, now heading away from camp…and then crossing a bit of trail from the morning…and more up-down-rocks…and then back on shared trail from loop 2A. Shared trail + directly heading towards camp = motivated trot, and we trotted the last mile or so back in to camp.

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out trudging on our own…

We were so overtime (by about an hour) but I still treated our finish like we were still in the game: come in, let her drink and eat while I pulled her saddle and sponged her down, and got her pulse (pulsed down to 60 in just a couple of minutes, impressive with it being as warm as it was, and her being a dark, still-fluffy, large-bodied horse), and then took her over to vet out.

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photo Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

She finished with all As (still didn’t like the vet handling her mouth, *sigh*) and a lovely trot-out, and then she got to chow down on the lovely bran mash + carrots provided by the ride for a few minutes while I sponged her off a little more (and then flopped the saddle back on her, since we were parked a ways away and it’s still not *that* light) and then we headed back to the trailer.

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vet card: lunch check and finish

She got to rejoin her BFF in their corral, I committed the grave crime of electrolyting her again, and then afterwards, I flopped down on a lounge chair with a water bottle in one hand, cold beer in the other, and plenty of snacks, and regaled Kirt and  Gina with our Tales of Being On Our Own and Not Dying. After the beer ran out and I’d put a dent in the food supply, I headed over to the ranch bathrooms where they have lovely permanent showers. (Living quarters are really nice, but the perk of permanent bathrooms at a facility is you don’t have to worry about draining the water tank or running out of hot water, so if they’re there, I will use them.) I washed a ton of trail dust and sweat off, changed into fresh, clean clothes, and headed back to the trailer for a bit before ride dinner.

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post-ride consumption of the food and water

I really have to give a nod to ride management at this ride. They provided some excellent perks, including dinner both nights, the volunteers were friendly and helpful, the trail markings were fabulous…it was just the trail itself that wasn’t entirely practical for endurance competition purposes, and management has already expressed a desire to take into account any constructive feedback and use that for the betterment of the trails for next year. (And kudos to the ride attendees: Everyone I have talked to or have seen feedback from has remained polite, courteous, and provided appropriate constructive criticism, versus just complaining and bitching. So good job, all around.)

That grilled hamburger dinner tasted delicious (and I really liked not having to cook), and it looked like a decent number of people stayed around for dinner/awards. We had planned from the beginning to stay Saturday night, so we had time to socialize and catch up with people before retiring back to the trailer for hot chocolate and cookies, and eventually bed.

I crashed hard until about 7, when sunrise and quiet horse murmurings pulled me out of the sleeping bag. I appeased the starving herd, then fortified myself with coffee. Liberty looked great — legs cool and tight, no back soreness (!!! and there hadn’t been any when we finished), bright-eyed, and most important: still talking to me. Yankee was back to normal — while I was out on the second loop, Gina had taken a closer look and found another thorn pretty deeply embedded in his fetlock, and once she removed that, he immediately started moving better and was completely fine by morning.

We did some hoof/boot consultations (Kirt have me one of those “show me what you’ve learned” tests by having me evaluate the hoof and what I would adjust on the trim…I passed with flying colors, which is always nice to hear since I tend to second-guess and doubt my abilities and skills when it comes to hooves and trimming) and slowly started to pack things up. Gina and I took the horses for a walk around camp, then loaded up and hit the road.

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nomming camp leftovers with Wicked

I swear, the road going out was almost worse than coming in, but I had good music on the radio, and a happy sense of success and fulfillment after a dynamite weekend, so the drive home went fast, and I was back by early afternoon to be greeted by my very excited Terrier Greeting Committee.

I am so, SO proud of this mare, I could just burst. She has not done very much training solo, and never at a ride. This is only my fourth time riding her, so she really doesn’t know me that well…and this was only the third time I would take a horse through a ride by myself. (The first was Mimi’s and my first 25, the second time was when I took Beamer on an LD at McDowell — both times on horses I knew very well and had spent a lot of time around.)

I felt so safe and comfortable on her. She’s sensible, not over-reactive, and keeps her head even when fairly stressed (such as leaving or meeting-and-leaving buddies). She never blew up, and she wasn’t even what I would consider particularly spooky. She’s got a stubborn streak that definitely shows up, particularly when she needs a mental break, and a walk that’s slower than a sloth dripped in peanut butter crawling over a glacier…but those are things that will be improved on with time. (And her trot and canter make up for her walk…and in-hand, she walks out quite nicely, so she can learn to do it.)

I don’t think of myself as particularly brave, but in this case, there wasn’t any second thoughts about heading out by ourselves. This horse and I feed off each other — she gives me confidence, she challenges me in all the right ways, and she makes me want to be the best version of the horsewoman I can be.

That was the longest 25 I’ve ever done, but it was worth taking whatever time we needed to make sure we both had a good experience. Liberty will for sure have a long, slow distance base on her, and all of her rides thus far (with the exception of the Bumble Bee pull) have had her on the trail for 6 or so hours, so she’s never learned the “race fast and you’re done in two hours” mentality…to her, you’re always on the trail for 6+ hours, so while moving up in distance will be a change, the longer time out on the trail won’t be as much of an adjustment. (It’s unconventional as a training method but maybe it’ll work?)

So, a Gold Star weekend for both of us, and one more building block layer in Creating a Distance Horse.

Post-Game Analysis: Bumble Bee 2016

I need to stop thinking and just post this, especially since I have another ride coming up this weekend.

Given that it’s been two years since I’ve been to a ride, I kind of felt a bit like starting from scratch. During that time period, I’ve managed to change out/swap/acquire different gear, most of it untested in an actual ride environment.

The Horse

I had some weirdness this time around with getting her halter-bridle to fit well in conjunction with the s-hackamore. (Which I don’t understand because it’s the same setup as previously and it didn’t get used on anyone else.) I think I’m running into the same situation that I do with Mimi – their heads are fairly short, length-wise, so I run out of real estate to have a halter noseband plus an s-hackamore…and still have the curb on the hackamore make appropriate contact. She also has big ears (sorry, mare), so I’m wondering if the headstall-style halter-bridle may not be the best option, as it’s really tight to get it over her ears…but if it’s easier to put on, the noseband sits too low, and if I’d be better-served going with the bit-hanger style. (Which I historically haven’t liked for trying to bridle with a bit and keep the bit in the mouth while fumbling with bit hanger snaps…an s-hack shouldn’t have that problem.) Further justification for tack hoarder behavior.

S-Hackamore: Given that I don’t work with her on a regular basis yet, I use what she usually goes in, and that’s an s-hackamore. I made one change and swapped out the curb chain for a solid beta curb strap, since the last time, she was acting super-fussy and would drop off contact (hate that) and go behind the vertical when the curb chain would engage. She did much better with the solid strap, although I had to use some authority on her a couple of times when she started getting competitive. Still, I’d rather have that, and have her learn “some contact is good,” since that is how I ride.

In the future, I would like to go back to some basic bitted work with her…she could do better on yielding, and really work her on engaging her hindquarters, working on some contact, and getting her to shift from the shoulders to the hindquarters. (Noticeable when she “drags” herself around on a tight, standstill turn versus doing a nice, from-the-haunches pivot.) She may also be a good candidate for working in a Myler Combination bit, as that offers so many opportunities for contact and release. Plus more groundwork.

Saddle: Unfortunately, I think it’s “three strikes and it’s out.” (Someone send a Money and/or Saddle Fairy my way, please?) Three rides, three different saddle pads, and sore all three times. I initially thought it may be too narrow (and it still might be, thus tipping back on the loins, also causing me to fight against it), but now I also think her back isn’t actually as table-like as I thought it was, and the saddle probably doesn’t have enough rock to it. So saddle shopping will eventually be on the table.  And the Duett is Mimi’s saddle, so it’s not going anywhere. (Ahem, Money Fairy???)

EasyCare Ultimate Stirrups: I am a revolving door of stirrup purchases. This was my latest one. I had high hopes for them, but after doing a ride, I am forced to conclude they are no better than my normal plastic EasyCare ones, and have some aspects of them that I didn’t care for after putting them through a ride, such as a somewhat sharp edge to the aluminum (looking at the dirt/sweat patterns afterwards, I can’t help but wonder if they would end up rubbing the horse’s sides), as well as the top slot is supposed to fit 1” leathers – they are a tight squeeze to get in there, and I worry the sharp edge will start cutting into the stirrup leather.

Gaston Mercier Comfort Stirrup Leathers: Don’t love them, don’t hate them. Want to put more miles on them, as well as play around with how the stirrup leathers loop onto the fender and see if I can make it more streamlined, because as it is, I can feel it as a potential pressure point. Really want to like them, because the leather is lovely and the fact they loop around the stirrup bar with no buckle means that part is super-comfortable.

Skito Dryback pad: Even had new inserts, so I can’t blame that for back soreness. Love my Dryback pad, although I had a hard time getting it centered this time. Which is what happens when you’re using to easily seeing over your pony’s back and now you have an extra five inches to try to see over.

Stillwater mohair contour girth: 24”…and fatty errr… “fluffy” mare could almost use a 26”, since I had to start at the very bottom holes on my billet straps, and gradually up to the second holes.

Boots: I was a material/color test guinea pig for the weekend, and the test boots were done in the Classic model. Liberty is actually a better fit for the Viper model, especially with her toe angle, which is just slightly lower, even with shorter toes. They all stayed on, but we scooped up quite a bit of sand in the washes, and ultimately discovered what we think was the source of her lameness pull: it looked like a small rock had gotten between the captivator and her heel bulbs and created a cut on her coronet band line. When I was poking and prodding her leg, I noticed what looked like a small cut/crease in the area and poked at it, and she flinched a bit…but I figured “surely something so small can’t actually be the cause, right?” Apparently it could. So tough, and so delicate, these creatures. (Which then goes to my own internal debate of “Is it better to have a stoic horse or a wimp? As exasperating as it is sometimes, I’m more inclined to go with ‘wimp’ since they let you know right away if something is bothering them.)

The Rider

The only thing different was my Irideon Synergy tights…and I love them. Must get more. I was initially worried that the multiple seams would cause some rubbing, but so far, so good. Granted,  I would like to take them through a full 25, and a 50, before proclaiming they’re the most awesome end-all, be-all of riding tights…but I’m really liking them so far, and I did some active riding. As well as dealt with part of my sheepskin cover creeping up and bunching up under my leg/seat, and that didn’t cause any rubbing or issues.

However I managed to forget everything I have learned about taking care of myself in my quest to “hurry up and keep moving”. Ate: Nothing along the way. (Fail.) Drank: A few sips of water. (Even more fail.) If I can’t be bothered to fuss with water bottles, I may need to go back to wearing a hydration pack for a while to re-train myself to actually drink. (Running pack is so much better than the old Camelbak…I should try that out riding one of these days.)

“Race brain” doesn’t just happen when you’re “trying to win.” We were not going fast (3 hours to do the 16 mile loop), but I still let myself get sucked into that mentality of “move along , must get down the trail, must not get caught on time” to the detriment of settling in and enjoying the ride.

I had a very enlightening conversation with Bruce Weary at the AERC Convention about learning to relax when you’re in the saddle and how that saddle time is the rider’s time to settle in, let the horse take care of you, make sure you’re hydrating, and not getting to mentally wound up. (Easier said than done.) And then the vet checks are the time for you to take care of your horse…and then once you’re in the saddle and on trail again, rider relaxation time. That’s not something I had every considered — normally I’m the “crash for 30 minutes or however long I have at the vet check” type — probably because Mimi has required a very “on” ride, and I’ve ridden a lot of new/younger horses…so I’ve never learned to relax. (FWIW, a similar thing has been pointed out to me by friends — that I have to learn to relax, go with the flow, and stop being so uptight/controlling/nitpicky when I ride, or I’ll burn myself out on 100 milers.)

Food for thought, and definitely something for me to work on.

Training Nosebands

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As in “the noseband is the thing getting trained.”

I love my beta/biothane hackamore nosebands. They’re becoming more and more available as replacements to the rope hackamores that come standard on a lot of s-hackamores, and some of the nicer s-hackamores (like Taylored Tack or Hought) are made with the them as par for the course.

However, there is one thing about them (and it has a lot to do with the number of layers and type of padding) that I find a little bit annoying: they tend to start out more rigid, without much shape to them, and thus will stick out from the side of the horse’s nose at first. Especially the more padding there is.

I have a basic, unpadded Hought biothane noseband on Mimi’s s-hack that is over 10 years old now. It has the top strip of biothane, with a single layer of thin, heavy-duty beta underneath. And it has a very nice curve shape to it.

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Of course, that was aided by the fact that Mimi tends to believe in “excessive rein contact”. (aka “she pulls like a crazy freight train”)

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way to foster the “all go” endurance horse reputation, pony…

That hackamore noseband shaped very nicely, and in a very short time period. (We’ll discuss my horse’s training and lack of “softness” on trail sometime next never.)

One a horse that is much lighter in the face, the noseband never really gets a chance to shape very much. It’s a small thing, but one of Life’s Minor Annoyances.

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Noseband exhibit A on Beamer, who was very light in the face and never required hard contact.

Liberty is another one who is light in the face (a relief for my shoulders, that’s for sure) and it would be really nice if she stays that way…but my Type A OCD-ness demands that I do something with my nosebands if the horse insists on being polite and only needing light contact.

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The noseband on the left is actually triple-layered (layer of beta that the buckles thread through, layer of thin beta under that, which is the same as Mimi’s purple one and the orange one to the right, but then with another layer of PVC waffle padding under that). Nice and cushy, especially for the sensitive horse, but really tough to get to hold a shape.

But hair elastics and keychains seem to be doing the trick, so they’ll stay this way until the next time I need to use them.

Ride Story: Lead-Follow at Bumble Bee 25 2016

Well, that didn’t go according to plan. Up to this point in my endurance career, I’ve been very fortunate: my only pulls have been rider option or overtime.

This was my first real vet pull — lameness. Liberty and I got through the first 16-mile loop…and got pulled for “something” in the right hind. The good news is there’s no heat or swelling, and she didn’t seem sensitive or touchy, so I’m hoping it’s something minor. And was perfectly sound again Sunday morning, and went blasting around the arena at Bumble Bee Ranch to prove it. (Thinking muscle, since she was stiff walking away from the trailer after standing for a few hours in the afternoon, but walked out of it after a dozen strides, or maybe a lack of electrolytes?)

It was a rocky, technical trail, with a few “not watching my feet” stumbles, coupled with the fact that in-between the rocky areas, we had to do some moving out…probably a little more than she was ideally ready for.

But that aside, I was really, really happy with the rest of the day and how well Liberty did.

I procured a rental car Friday morning, stuffed it with half the contents of my garage, and headed out about noon. Bumble Bee is only about an hour and half from my house — ended up a little closer to two hours with some of the Phoenix traffic.

I love the Bumble Bee Ranch basecamp. Total luxury with bathrooms, showers, permanent corrals you can rent, and a nice, flat, wide open field for basecamp. Once there, I got myself checked in for the ride, as well as settling up with the ranch for corrals and the overnight camping fees. (Super reasonable — $10 for the first corral, $5 for the second, and $10 for dry camping, all per night.)

I spent part of the afternoon socializing and getting caught up with people while waiting for Kirt and Gina to arrive with horses. They made good time out of Kingman and were there with plenty of time for us to unload the horses and walk them around camp before vetting in.

The last time I saw Liberty was this ride two years ago, but it was like hardly any time had gone by. Maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing here, but I like to think Big Mare likes me…and she totally brings out my inner 8-year-old child that likes to squeal with delight and festoon the pony with glitter and neon colors.

Liberty’s a bit of a “work in progress” when it comes to her ground manners – she likes to shove at you with her nose, and fling her head around, so she got a fingernail poke to her muzzle (several times) for her troubles. She was really good for the vet, though – stood politely, didn’t fuss about having her legs handled, and didn’t mind having her mouth opened and examined. And she actually trotted through the trot-out versus her impressive cantering in-hand last time.

She vetted in with all As, although her 44 pulse was higher from what it has been in the past…probably in response to her “best friends” being in different places…but that’s how she learns and eventually settles.

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All A’s…good start

Because someone (Liberty…) has been known to dig holes to China when tied to the trailer, we opted to rent corral spaces from the ranch, and stashed the horses (Liberty, Gina’s horse Yankee, and Liberty’s pasturemate Wicked) in there overnight. As much as I like having them at the trailer, there’s a part of me that doesn’t miss listening to boinging hi-ties and clattering buckets all night long.

Liberty got to ground-tie via the “grass to graze on” method while I worked on detangling her mane (long, thick, silky, and forms the most impressive witchy-knots ever), then once she was all beautiful and tangle-free, they got stashed in the corrals, and we headed over for dinner and the ride meeting.

Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a good spread of spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and Caesar salad, plus brownies and ice cream for dessert. I stuffed my face, in-between socializing and catching up with people, and then the ride meeting started.

The trail was the same as two years ago (two loops, first was 16 miles and the second 9 miles, with an hour hold in-between), pulse criteria was 64 at the hold, 60 at the finish. Pink ribbons to mark the trail, orange ribbons to mark the turns, don’t cross the flour lines.

I had pretty much packed and organized my saddle before leaving home – just had to stick my vet card and map in there, and then debate over which saddle pad to use after an interesting discussion with Kirt over the pros and cons of the various pad inserts.

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Liberty’s boots ready for the morning — being a materials and color testing guinea pig meant looking like a bit of a mismatch

The last time I did this ride, we started late, and I was determined not to make that mistake again, so set the alarm for 5:30 to give myself 2 hours before the start. Friday night sleep before a ride is a pretty elusive thing for me, and this time was no exception…lots of “drift off, wake up” on and off throughout the night, but eventually the alarm went off and I crawled out of bed, dressed, then headed over to the pavilion where they had coffee available all night long. (And heated bathrooms. Like I said, luxury.)

Breakfast was a quick affair – coffee, a cranberry cereal bar, and a string cheese, and then we brought the horses back over to the trailer to tack up. Working for a boot company (and riding their horse) means being an in-field guinea pig test subject…and we had the mis-matched boots to prove it. Yes, we’re testing some new colors.

Liberty is so nice and calm for things like tacking up…just stands still and quiet and doesn’t fuss or fidget. (And no pawing!) She was also really good about having her hind legs handled/booted (she’s been “quick” about that in the past where she snatches her leg up really fast and isn’t patient about holding it up). I had to do some major fiddling with her headstall to get the s-hackamore to fit well – I’m actually running into the same problem with her as I do with Mimi, and that is too short of head length to fit the hackamore and halter both on and still have chinstrap clearance/functionality but not have the noseband too low. Ah, well…something to mess with in the future, and maybe look at something that is custom sized for her particular dimensions.

Even with all of my fiddling, we still had a buffer of about 10 minutes, so mounted up and started making our way over to the start line. Liberty had one “Uh, I don’t know about this moment” in which she very gracefully turned around and tried for a swift exit back to the trailer – very smooth and barely even broke into a trot – so I just laughed, took lots of deep breaths, and walked her back towards the starting area. Once we started moving she really settled, then stood quietly at the start area while we checked in and gave our numbers.

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I am still the 8-year-old little girl that hugs her pony. photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

There wasn’t a controlled start for the 25s, so we let the first half a dozen people light out of their with their butts on fire, and then no one else seemed to be in a major rush, so we made our way our down the lane around camp and through the ranch barnyard. This was a major sticking point two years ago for us – 15 minutes to get by all the tractors, equipment, and GOATS. This year, she eyeballed everything, and sort of danced her way by the goat pen, but she didn’t balk and we made it through at a nice walk, even a bit of trotting.

I wanted to get her out and get her moving down the trail, which we did for about the first mile, and then I backed her off and Gina put Yankee out front. Last time, Liberty had Issues with being behind Wicked, and would start crowhopping and bucking when she was behind…but she also didn’t necessarily want to be brave and go in front, and it was only with extreme pedaling that I got her going. This time, I wanted to see what she would do…and then deal with it as necessary.

She did have some “happy feet” moments, mostly related to Yankee out-trotting her, especially on more of a downhill, but she was totally controllable, and it was more sheer enthusiasm than any kind of dirty tricks, maliciousness, fear, or rodeo-bronc impressions. In short: very rideable. (Especially with a nice handful of that thick mane.) She also gives pretty good warning, so I was able to catch her usually on the first hop, and have her head popped up and heel dug into her side, so she never got to stop, nor did she get to go faster or get ahead.

It took probably about 5 or 6 miles for her to settle in, but unlike last time, we were in the thick of the pack of 25s, as well as 50s re-joining shared trail. We were so far behind last time, we really didn’t have to deal with anyone passing us or needing to pass. This time, we did. This has been a questionable area for us in the past – Liberty has something of a “happy feet” reputation and I’ve been super-diligent about never giving her the opportunity to try any kicking or naughtiness.

Gina describes her as “unsocialized” with other horses, since she usually rides her alone, or with maybe one other person, so all of these new horses had Liberty more amped up, especially coming into communal areas like water troughs…but she stayed perfectly controllable. She had a couple of moments where, when passing someone, she tried to get in one of her crowhops, but I never felt like she was targeting the other horse or actively kicking out. Definitely progress. At one point, Yankee even rear-ended her while we were on a single-track trail, and all she did was pin her ears. Good girl.

The first half of loop one is a mix of sand wash and double-track dirt road – a good place to make time. The second half is the fun part – about 7 or so miles of single-track on the Black Canyon Trail. Lots of twists, turns, bits of rock and some technical stuff…and one of my favorite trails. This was the part I had been saving Liberty’s mental energy for, and Gina and I traded spots for Liberty and I to move up to the front.

She was just a little hesitant at first, and then she spied some horses gradually approaching behind us, and she locked onto the trail and kicked it into gear. This was the best. time. ever. and probably one of my favorite moments thus far of riding this mare.

I didn’t even pull out my camera this time – too “in the zone” to want to mess with it, I guess.

She did some really smart footwork, no spook, no hesitation, just locked on and solid. There were a few moments in some of the rocky areas that we had to have some “discussions” about slowing down and paying attention to one’s feet. (But her toes were also a little long, too.) I had changed out the standard curb chain on her s-hack to a solid beta one, as she just seemed a little fussy and sensitive to the “bite” of the chain. That did the trick in that she didn’t do any head tossing or slinging under saddle this time, and while I had to be a little stronger with her at times, I was able to have more contact with her face without her dropping off the contact or going behind the vertical to get away from the chain. Again, headgear will be something interesting to play with in the future, as she needs some work on bending, giving, unlocking her shoulders, and *using* that wonderful rear end for things like turns and pivots. (Thinking some “back to basics” snaffle work, and then maybe into a Myler Combination bit.)

The last section of trail into camp is super-fun – a large sand wash with an actively running (ok, trickling) stream. Last time, Liberty only went into the water after her pasture-mate did…this time, Yankee was the one eyeing the water and Liberty was the one who bravely splashed through.

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dropping down into the wash back to camp. photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Photographer Susan Kordish and her husband John usually set up around this area and get some amazing photos – it is such a pretty spot that I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about “photos that look the same.” (Which, if you think about it, can be sort of asinine – photos taken in certain spots at certain rides become “iconic” versus “the same” – how many people complain about “oh, another Cougar Rock photo”? People start to know the Bumble Bee photos because of the uniqueness of that much water in the middle of the desert, versus “just another landscape of cactus and rocks.” Ok, soapbox moment over.)

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down in the wash (water wimps are taking advantage of the grassy bank). photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

This year was no exception, and I came  away with yet another photo I’m calling “my favorite ride photo.” I don’t know what her secret is, but Susan is 3/3 now in producing at least one stunner of a photo from every ride Liberty and I have done together.

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I love this photo. So much. Just makes me smile to see it. photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

This section was another area where Liberty demonstrated she had really grown up in the course of two years – there’s a large section of the wash that is dry sand, topped with dry, crunchy, rustling leaves. Liberty is super-sensitive to rustling types of noises (high reactive to the possibility of snakes, as she comes out of a snake-infested area) and two years ago, we tiptoed through this area, as anything more than that threated to set her off. This year, she trotted through the wash, spraying sand on the leaves and not giving even an ear flick.

She also paused in the middle of the wash to relieve herself with a nice big pee in the soft, fluffy sand. Yay for peeing under saddle.

Right when we were entering the ranch again after exiting the wash, Liberty gave me her one true spook of the entire ride – we had just tiptoed past a cattle guard, giving it a healthy side-eye, and she was now fixated on the large metal horse sculptures next to the road when a pickup truck popped up behind us and she did a hard spook about five feet to the side and really slammed her feet into the ground.

We proceeded to make our way around camp and back to the same lane we had gone out on, and in an effort to save some time and avoid a “Horses Who Stare At Goats” incident, I hopped off and started leading her on foot through the yard and down the lane. At one point, I had her in a slow jog, and out of the corner of my eye, saw her head dip a time or two…but she was also jostling with Yankee for a spot on the road, and looking at all the ridecamp activity, and we were in a crowd of other people and horses, so I didn’t think much of it.

Her under-saddle walk might be slow, but we made some time on foot, even passing a few people coming into the check. She got a quick drink while I loosened her girth and got my in-time card (in at 10:09AM), and by the time that was done and we went to get her pulsed in, she was already down to 60. Total time: two minutes.

There was only one other person ahead of us in the vet line, so we went over to vet right away. Again, she vetted really well – one B on skin tenting, the rest As, and good gut sounds…but when we went to trot off, she didn’t want to immediately trot…took me until about ¾ of the way down the trot lane to get her to trot. So when we got back to the vet, he asked to see her trot again. She trotted that time, but when we got back, the vet didn’t look particularly thrilled…said she was knuckling over weird on her right hind fetlock.

Kirt pulled Liberty’s boots off, in case there was anything in there, I swapped her reins to her halter instead of her s-hack for less head interference, the vet got one of the other vets to watch, and we trotted a third time. Apparently still something there, although she was still trying to enthusiastically run over me on the way back. (More things to work on: in-hand trotting manners.) They held my vet card for a re-check at the end of the hour hold, although one of the vets said that if she looked the same at the end of the hour, he wasn’t going to let me go back out, because she was borderline between grade 1 and 2.

I did a really good job holding it together until after we got back to the trailer and I had Liberty settled in front of a hay bag, bridle off, and fleece blanket on her butt. I started poking and prodding, massaging her rump muscles, feeling for any tight spots or sensitive areas. I eventually worked my way down to her lower legs…and completely freaked out when I felt a warm spot on the inside of her leg above the fetlock. Lost it, right then and there…absolute flood of waterworks, since I assumed the worst and figured I had broken her. Not even my horse yet, and I had already managed to break her.

Sane and rational Gina came over, felt the area, reached over to the other leg and felt the corresponding area, and gently pointed out that the sides of her legs that were facing the full sun were both equally warm.

Oh.

Dark horse + sun exposure = warm hair.

Kirt and Gina shooed me away to go take care of myself and get food/hydration while Kirt worked on giving Liberty a full hind-end massage and stretch. So I grabbed string cheese and grumble-texted my core group of endurance buddies about our current state. I did kind of a poor job of eating – I think I’m regressing in my self-care abilities, or I was just too distracted/worried to think properly – but I managed a string cheese, an energy bar thing, an applesauce, and the rest of my green juice from the morning.

Ten minutes before our out time, Kirt put Liberty’s front boots back on, I put her s-hack on, and we walked over to the vet area. One more trot-out , and the vets concurred with their earlier assessment – subtle, but “something” off on the right hind, enough that they didn’t feel comfortable letting us go out for that second, very rocky and technical, loop.

And just like that, I got my first actual vet pull at an endurance ride. (Overtime or rider option in the past.)

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Really great…up until the lameness pull

Gina and Yankee went back out for the second loop (she apologized for leaving me, I told her don’t even think about not going back out there) and Liberty and I headed back to the trailer. Liberty was a little confused, and she hollered a few times for Yankee, but she was very well-behaved – no pacing, twirling, fidgeting, or pawing. I gave her a pellet mash and a hay bag, and let her munch while I untacked her and set to work giving her a sponge bath. (Yay, desert in January and a high of 70* means you get the sponge off the sweaty, dirty, endurance horse.)

Gina and Yankee made it back in from their second loop in time (with about a minute to spare…) and passed the vet check with flying colors. We got him all taken care of and cleaned up, then the horses got to go back over to their corrals and relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Bumble Bee Ranch is such a nice place to relax and hang out that we had decided ahead of time to stay over Saturday night, and maybe ride again Sunday morning. Obviously, I wasn’t going to ride Liberty the day after a lameness pull…however, we did turn them out in the big arena and they proceeded to run around like lunatics…and Liberty was 100% sound.

Oh, well…at least whatever the vets saw turned out to be minor.

So Sunday morning turned into some nice relaxation and quiet time, basking in the sunshine and 60-something-degree weather, before eventually packing up camp, loading the horses, and heading for our respective homes.

The pups were ecstatic to see me (you’d think they’d been neglected all weekend long…never mind that my parents absolutely dote on them), stuff got flung from the car back to where it (mostly) belongs, stinky laundry sorted, and sore muscles got treated to a hot shower.

So: obviously, a somewhat disappointing weekend what with getting pulled/thinking I broke the horse. I probably didn’t, but I’m part Russian: I’m honor-bound to feel guilty. However, there were also some really good moments, like: realizing how much Liberty has matured mentally in two years, and what an absolute rockstar she was; her little happy feet crowhopping moments don’t scare me, and I can ride them out instead of turning into a helpless, clinging, limpet-monkey; I got to spend time with her and discover she has quite the personality on her – very affectionate, has a major sense of humor, and is even downright silly at times, especially for a mare.

Hoping I get to do another upcoming ride with her, but as always, I’m pretty much playing my schedule by ear and seeing what happens…

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One last selfie before I gotta say goodbye…

Up next: The analysis of what worked/what didn’t/gear.