Remember how I said I love music?

I take a lot of my inspiration from music I hear. This one is a really good example of that.

Different subject matter — music, versus horses/endurance — but same message.

“Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart.”

My dream is Tevis. I will get there, and until that day, I will keep dreaming about it.

Thankful

It’s easy to be thankful when times are good.  The true test comes during the rough times.  For me, it’s learning to see through those rough times and find the good out of some less-than-joyous situations.

(Isn’t she diplomatic tonight?  Blame it on the post-food coma and a couple glasses of wine.)

– Going through the past year or so has brought my parents and I even closer together.  I’ve always had a good relationship with them, and we’ve really banded together in mutual support to solider through. I consider them to be some of my best friends.

– The friends that have held me up and held me together.  I have whined, bitched, moaned, and cried on shoulders.  And I’ve laughed, schemed, plotted, drank and giggled.  Friends are a support system, a network  I can count on and include as part of my family.

– Cute little fuzzy white pony ears that perk up when I walk out to the pasture, and the even cuter little fuzzy white pony face they’re attached to.  We’ve shared 15 years together.  God willing, we’ll share many more.

– Good music, good food.  The chance to indulge my interest in both.  Music’s my happy place, the kitchen is my non-horsey sanctuary.

– Hopes and dreams.  The ability to dream and think beyond the present gives me hope…”This, too, shall pass.”

A Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!

Endurance Up

“Cowboy up.”

In my case, cowgirl up.

It’s a common phrase, especially out here in the West, and it’s a succinct way of telling someone to shut up, stop whining, grow a pair, et cetera.  No crybabies allowed.  If you’re gonna run with the big dogs…

You get the idea.

I came into endurance already somewhat familiar with this concept.  Despite the fact that versatility is the hallmark of the POA, and the best way to describe what we did was “Everything,” there was a very strong Western influence to the shows, and the whole POA lifestyle.  Wimps and crybabies weren’t tolerated.  I was a very somewhat nervous fearful cautious rider as I was growing up (Who am I kidding?  I still am…) and as such, didn’t embrace activities such as jumping and gymkhana with quite the same reckless abandon as some of my fellow riding cohorts.

And yeah, I took the accompanying ridicule with (mostly) good humor.  After all, I was training a young horse.  I didn’t want Mimi to learn “gymkhana race brain” and end up being one of those ponies that had to be backed into the gaming arena because they were so hyped up.

“Tough” doesn’t have to equate to “stupid.”

Sometimes, being tough means making the hard decisions, the responsible decisions, and being the stronger person.  And it’s a damn good life skill to have out on the endurance trail.

On the surface, endurance looks like a sport of “only the toughest survive.”  And that’s true.  But what’s your definition of tough?  50 miles over rugged terrain?  100 miles over any terrain?  The rider that rides hard and fast enough to Top Ten?  Or the rider that is out for the full 12 hours of allowed time?  Surely the natural athlete that eats up the miles effortlessly is one tough horse?  But what about the plucky little horse who is all heart that gives their all because they love what they’re doing?

(Incidentally, that last one would be Mimi.)

It takes all kinds of tough.

Some riders can mile after mile, day after day, never appearing to show any kind of discomfort.  For others, they are aided by pharmaceutical means and support wraps.  But they are out there.

No doubt, endurance cultivates “tough.”  It takes not only physical strength, but mental fortitude to make it through an endurance ride.  There aren’t too many people out there that don’t hit a wall at some point during the ride, and you gotta suck it up and forge ahead.  It’s easy to get discouraged when the boring part of the trail seems to go on forever.  There may be a scary section of trail, but you gotta gather your courage, trust your horse, and just do it, because it’s the only way to go.

We (and Alaskan fishermen) keep the foul-weather gear companies in business.  Weather is seen as a poor excuse to sit out the day.  (After all the wet rides I’ve done, I beg to differ on this one.  Cold, wet rides just suck, says the desert rat.)

Like I said, endurance riders are tough.  But there’s another side to that as well…

“Tough” all depends on the given circumstances of any situation.  Listening to the campfire horror stories, one might get the impression that endurance is really a competition of “Who can be the most insane?” when riders start pulling out stories of various injuries they’ve ridden with/through.  Broken ribs, broken arms, concussions, kicked, stomped, battered, bruised.

I hear that and I think, “I’m a wimp.”

My first 50 I ever tried, I pulled halfway through because the saddle I was riding had tweaked and pulled my ankle into such an unnatural position that it ended up spraining it.  I couldn’t put any weight on it in the stirrup, and couldn’t go stirrup-less on the side because the loose stirrup flopping on the horse’s side kept spooking him.

I clung to the guilt of that ride for a long time.  I felt like a failure as an endurance rider…I should have been tougher.  I should have tried to finish.  All the other “real” endurance riders are going to look down on me because I wimped out over a sprained ankle.  If “x” can get through a ride with whatever-body-part-broken, I should have been able to disregard a measly ankle sprain.

That’s where “tough” can turn around and bite you.  What did I say earlier about “tough” doesn’t have to mean “stupid”?

Okay, I get it…we’re all out to prove how tough we are based on a collective lack of IQ?

Because if you sit back and really look at the big picture, who is that kind of tough actually helping?

Your ego, yes.

More campfire stories.

The local orthopedic surgeon knowing you on a first-name basis.

After that ride, I too got caught up in the “tough” competition.  The following weekend, I took Mimi to a NATRC ride, still sporting the sprained ankle.  Hey, it’s my own pony, I can ride her without stirrups if I need to.

You’re going to ride two days on a still-sprained ankle?  A NATRC ride, where you’re judged on horsemanship, including evenness?  What were you thinking?


Outside forces intervened, and Mimi had a weather-related tie-up only a few miles into the first day.

Did I learn my lesson?  Clearly not…

A month later, Mimi and I had an “incident” that involved a javalina, a sand wash, and a tree.  Lesson learned?  The pony fits under a low-hanging palo verde tree.  I don’t.  End result?  A mild concussion and sprained/bruised hand/wrist.

A week later, we were out in California at another NATRC ride.  I had a wrapped wrist and was pretty much limited to riding/mounting one-handed.  That worked well.  Mimi checked out of that ride back sore, a first for a saddle set-up that had otherwise been working for her for the past two years.

Lesson still didn’t stick, because when I sprained my other ankle stepping/falling out of the back of my horse trailer, my first thought was, “Ah, redemption!  I can make up for the other ankle incident.”

You may all collectively sigh and shake your heads.

Needless to say, that didn’t go well.  It’s one thing to try to work through an injury if it happens while out on trail, but to deliberately start a ride that way is just asking for trouble.  And trouble I got.  That weekend wasn’t one of my finer, since I was uncomfortable, and it made me short-tempered and susceptible to several emotional breakdowns.  We pulled at the first vet check.

Did I finally learn my lesson?  I’d have to say, “Yes.”

This past New Years, I was given a chance to join some friends at the Resolution Ride up in Scottsdale (ride story to eventually come).  It was a three-day ride, and the plan was to try to ride a couple of 25s, since the horse I was riding was young, and I hadn’t done a 50 in over a year.

The day before the ride, I started getting the suspicious sore throat that heralds one of the lovely 24-bug-that-morphs-into-a-cold things I tend to get.  I gobbled cough drops, tea, Airborne…anything to try to stave off the inevitable.

It didn’t work.

By that afternoon, I was sicker than a dog, and miserable.  None of this was made better by the fact a torrential storm had moved in and was dumping gallons of water from the sky.  Since I’m not exactly well-versed in the art of throwing up off the back of a horse, and would be riding a youngster that I’d never even sat on before, I made the decision to sit out the first day.  (Hey, she’s learning!)

I took it easy that first day, and woke up feeling pretty much normal by day two.  The bug had morphed into a head cold, but the worst of that was just a stuffy nose, only slightly worse than the year-round allergies I already live with.

Saddle up, I’m riding!

I had a great ride on a really fun horse that day, and was presented with the opportunity to go out on day three and do the 50.  And I passed.

Why?  Because I know myself.  I wasn’t in shape to do a 50, especially on the heels of already having ridden a day.  I could have done a 50 by itself and had I been sans flu/cold.  I knew my limits, and as much fun as it would have been…the girl finally learned her lesson.  It wouldn’t have been fair to the horse to tote my out-of-shape carcass (which is what I would have been after about 20 miles) around, it wouldn’t have been fair to my riding partner to make her slow down to accommodate me, and it wouldn’t have been fair to myself.

Which brings me to my point:  How does that kind of “tough” impact your horse?  If you’re injured, your body is naturally compensating to protect the injured area.  In the case of a sprained ankle, more weight is going to be put on the uninjured side.  Ditto the case with an arm or ribs.  Head injury?  At the very least, your mind is fuzzy, your balance is impaired, and you may not be making the best decisions.  (Kinda like drinking, only not as much fun.)

We’ve all proven how “tough” we are just by doing this crazy sport.  How does a little bit of self-preservation mitigate that?  I’m all for being “tough” (Who’s seen Annie Get Your Gun?  “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” comes to mind…) but it shouldn’t be at the cost to your horse.  That said…

Endurance UP!

Reader Feedback: I shared some of my dumber moments…so tell me I’m not alone!  Have you had your “tough” moments that you later regretted?

The Path So Far…Looking Back on Six Years of Endurance (Updated with Pictures!)

Today marks the sixth anniversary of my foray into endurance. October 1, 2005, I did my first 25-mile LD ride at the Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, AZ.  It’s a ride I’ve attended every year since, and high on my list of favorite rides.

It’s been an incredible six years.  Even with my current hiatus status, I have every intention of returning to the sport as soon as I’m able, and still keep abreast of current happenings and goings-on.  After doing seemingly a little bit of everything within the horse world, I’ve finally found my niche in endurance.
So you’ll pardon my somewhat stream-of-consciousness style of putting this post together (not to mention a long-a** post), but I’m writing things as they come to me…in flashes of inspiration, often the same way the realization of an event as a learning moment struck.
Enjoy the view…it might have taken a while to get there.
Saguaro Lake, January 2011

Patience, grasshopper.  Endurance has taught me nothing if not patience.  Patience with my horse, myself, my riding companions, the other competitors.  I can only control so much of what happens…the rest requires a (sometimes large) dose of patience.
The journey is now.  I admit this one comes and goes.  I am guilty of extreme forward-thinking, even having a potential ride schedule mapped out two to three years in advance of a specific goal. *cough*Tevis*cough*  The consequence of this means being disappointed on a regular basis…best laid plans and all.  It’s been a task to rein myself in and to learn to live in the moment…make each mile count, to find the special in every ride, to appreciate the quiet whuffling (okay, pig-like snorting) of your horse as the two of you share an apple.  Don’t get so caught up in the big picture and reaching an ultimate destination that you forget to enjoy the journey along the way, because there’s no guarantee you’ll even reach that final goal.
     Ex.: As anyone that’s read this blog for more than a page knows, Tevis was always my ultimate goal with Mimi.  Obviously, that didn’t happen.  In the back of my mind, I think I realistically knew it would take a miracle to get us to the start line.  The optimist in me never stopped dreaming.  But in our last year of competition together, that little voice in my head made me very aware of the good times.  Our last ride — and pull — not withstanding, the two rides prior to that were the best rides I could ever hope for from Mimi.  Man Against Horse 50 and Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50, both in 2009, were textbook rides that I will always treasure.  There are some fantastic memories etched into my mind from those rides:

Man Against Horse
– Starting in the thick of the pack, Mimi’s ears flattened, weaving through horses and runners. 
– Trotting along the road that leads to the climb up the back side of Mingus Mountain.  Through the worst of the hard-pack and rock portion of the road and onto where it turns into smooth double-track.  Mimi was leading, trotting along the road on a loose rein, playfully ducking at the metal culverts on the side of the road, and I was cheerfully singing at the top of my lungs.
– Picking through the rocks near the top of Mingus Mtn.
– Leading through the woods on the way down to the third vet check, on a loose rein, blitzing through the single-track trail, in perfect sync.  Smooth, perfectly in control, checking herself on downhills, balanced around turns.
– Crossing the finish line.  We were walking in…no sense in tripping on a gopher hole in the last 100 yards, but she still had to out-walk Beamer and cross the finish line ahead of him.  (She won, in her mind.)  I cried when I leaned over to hug her as she marched under that finish banner, I was so proud of her.  This ride was our Tevis.

VotS Turkey Trot
– Smashed in the middle of a whole bunch of horses invading her personal space at the controlled start, and doing nothing more than the Pony Sneer.
– Trying to dump me by spooking at the bench at the top of the ridgeline trail.  At 30-something miles into the ride.

– Leading down a single-track trail that made its way towards basecamp, at dusk.  Her lightly stepping over every single inlaid anti-erosion log on the trail, at a trot, and not tripping once.

– Doing a show-perfect sliding stop in the middle of said trail to stare at a barrel cactus.
– Riding the last three miles back to camp in the dark, no glowstick or lights of any kind.  Trotting along in the big sand wash, with her politely ignoring me when I tried to steer us down a dead-end trail.  She was absolute perfection and I had total trust in her.  She never missed a step.

Flexibility.  See above, with best-laid plans.  Endurance riders have to, by necessity and survival, learn to be flexible and adapt.  Expect the unexpected, and not to be too fatalistic, plan for the worst…or, at least, have a back-up plan.  Horses are unpredictable creatures, and endurance adds in that many more factors to amplify that tendency.  
“Nobody likes a sissy.”  Words to live by, spoken (well, Facebooked) by friend and fellow endurance rider Renee Robinson.  It’s become somewhat of a catch-phrase now, and it is so true.  With limited time, budgetary constraints, and availability of rides within reasonable traveling distance, I couldn’t afford to be a fair-weather rider.  As a result, I’ve gotten wet at half of the rides I’ve done.  This desert rat is closer to a drowned desert rat.  But that’s a lot of rides I would have missed out on due to potentially-inclement weather.  Mimi, however, has no such qualms about her sissy status, and will proudly admit it from her warm, dry stall.  She doesn’t do cold, wet rides, and has told me so in so many words.  And when I don’t get the message, she grants me a tie-up as thanks.
Have Gore-Tex, will travel
Las Cienegas ride, December 2006

Gore-Tex, or go home.  If you’re gonna stick it out in the wet, you gotta have the goods.  And by that, I mean Gore-Tex.  Two failed “waterproof” coats later, Gore-Tex is the only way to go.  The one I have is from Cabela’s.  It’s a nice light, layer-able shell. This is the updated version: Cabela’s PacLite Rainy River Parka.  They periodically go on sale, which is when I got mine, along with a set of matching rain pants.  Ideally, my next coat will have snaps in addition to the zipper.

We’ll never have all the answers.  Why do they tie up?  How much electrolytes should I give?  Why aren’t they drinking better?  Why did the vet check move?  Where’d the ribbons go?  Boot check?  Where’s my crew bag box?  A few tongue-in-cheek questions mixed in there among the serious, but it makes the same point: There will always be questions.  Sometimes, we’ll be fortunate enough to know the answers.  Some questions, we’ll never know the answers.  (Like that maddening tie-up one.)  But part of the endurance adventure is the ability to try to find those answers…and ask the questions.

Crew boxes rock.  With two people and two horses and a whole ton of stuff, a box is a lot easier to pack than multiple bags.  And everything ends up being easier to find, since Murphy’s Law comes in and rearranges my crew bag after I’ve packed it, shuffling exactly what I’ll need to the bottom of the bag, so everything has to be unpacked to get to it.  Which brings me to the crew bag/box rule: It never fits in the same way again.  Despite emptying it of food, water, and horse food at every check, there’s less room for everything to fit back in again.

Endurance people are some of the nicest, most helpful people out there.  I’m constantly amazed at the selflessness, generosity, and helpful spirits I encounter along the trail.  People have loaned me horses, opened up their homes for me to visit, mentored me, shown me new trails, taken me to rides, and have never failed to be there when needed.  I’m so, so grateful and thankful to every single one of you.

post-ride to Christopher Creek in Payson, Sept 2010

Hug your horse.  At the end of the day, they’re your partner.  I’ve been lucky enough to have shared the trail with my equine soul mate and forever heart horse who has given me her all.  So remember to thank them for that…every ride is special.

Rider management matters.  Don’t get so caught up in caring for your horse you forget to take care of yourself.  Eat, sleep, exercise.  I’m not advocating crazy diet plans or being marathon-fit…just be sensible.  The better you are, the better it is for your horse.

Desert Forest NATRC, March 2007, Wickenburg, AZ.
Going up “mini Cougar Rock”

“You don’t know how far you can go until you’ve gone too far.” (Julie Suhr)  There’s a fine line between pushing out of the comfort zone and going over the edge.  But you don’t know until you try.  That risk is part of endurance.  And sometimes, you’ll be surprised at what you accomplish.

At the end of the day, SMILE!  You’re riding your horse in beautiful country, some of which can only be seen from horseback.  And remember, it’s called ENDURANCE for a reason!

view from the Highline Trail, just below the Mogollon Rim
Payson, September 2010

snow-covered Superstitions
view from the San Tan Mtn Park
January 2010

Picketpost Mtn
February 2011


Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned From Endurance

Ask anyone that has done yoga: Flexibility is a learned skill.  Some people are naturally more flexible than others (this would be everyone else other than me), but everyone has to do some degree of work to keep improving their flexibility.

And it’s not just physical.  Mental flexibility is also an acquired skill.  And I’ve found that nothing in my life has taught me that more than endurance.

I’m sitting here this morning under a low-lying level of thick, gray clouds — literally and figuratively.  Monsoon season is upon us in Arizona, and we’re being taunted by those clouds and their accompanying thick, oppressive humidity into thinking rain might be on the horizon if we’re lucky.  However, even if it were the brightest, sunniest day ever, I have to admit, I’d still be sitting under a pile of gray storm clouds hovering over my head.

Why?

Because according to my Life Plan, this weekend was supposed to be very different than what is actually happening.  Life Plan dictated that, at this moment, I should have been standing around with my cup of coffee, inhaling silty red dust, braiding manes, packing crew boxes, and trying to remember how to breathe at 7200′ elevation.

Tevis.

This was going to be it.  My year.  My one and only shot at that silver buckle with Mimi.  Our chance to defy those odds stacked against us; to pit ourselves against the wilderness and the clock; to experience all the tension, nerves, excitement, and worry as participants, not just as crew members on the sidelines.

That obviously didn’t happen.

Circumstances (school, work) even conspired against me this year to keep me from going up and crewing and enjoying the chaos in that fashion.  I’ll be following things vicariously this year, via the webcast.  The good: I’ll be making money instead of spending it.  There’s my silver lining.

But I will admit: I’m sulking.  This has been something I’ve wanted so bad, for so long…it’s been very tough to let go of this particular dream.  I know that I’ll find my Tevis horse…someday.  And get to the Ride…eventually.  But my heart knows it’ll never be the same.  Even when my mind knows that putting it on the shelf is the right decision, my heart has yet to be fully convinced.  Such is the way of optimists and dreamers, I suppose.

I haven’t even ridden in six weeks: A bad combination of icky weather and pony antics.  Both ponies are currently mooching their position on the Equine Disability List for all its worth.  It started about a month and half ago, when Beamer got kicked in the shoulder, and flies invaded the tiny little gash on his shoulder.  Within a few short days, it had grown to an irritation the size of my palm.  Naturally ,this spot is right on the point of his shoulder — an area of constant motion, and an area that’s impossible to keep bandaged and covered.

After several unsuccessful weeks, I started brainstorming.  I raided the garage, and the dresser that holds all of my extra tack, for my old show supplies, and one sacrificed Lycra mane tamer later…

His bandage is now staying put for 24 hours, and things are finally starting heal.  Just in time for him to whack his face on something and get some kind of nice puncture wound.  Naturally, this would be right at the spot where his s-hack and halter sits.  More mane tamer bits to the rescue, and my task this afternoon is to see if my latest in Beverly Hillbillies horsewear will work to counter this newest challenge.
Meanwhile, the pony was jealous of all the attention Beamer was getting, and decided that she wanted in on the action…
I have yet to figure out what she stuck her leg into to manage that kind of scrape.  She’s somewhat sensitive on it…that’s a bony area, and she probably bruised herself in the process of flailing and whatever manuevers it took to manage such end results.  I last trotted her out in hand on Tuesday, and she was slightly off on circles and uphill.
I don’t even have to be signed up for Tevis for the gremlins to attack.
And hence, my continued absence from regular blogging.  It’s difficult to muster up the kind of cheer and enthusiasm needed to write an entertaining blog when the most exciting thing that happens is finally obtaining a good pair of nippers.  (Hoof trimming just got so much easier.)  And, I’ll also admit to having quite a few feelings of teeth-gnashing and envy for those whose circumstances are much more fortunate than mine…that is, anyone that still has the good luck to be attending rides with sound and capable horses.
Yes, I’m whining.  Yes, I’m frustrated.  The fatalistic part of me knows it could be so much worse.  It was so much easier when I was a child, and could stomp my foot and pout about the unfairness of life.  Now, being an adult means learning to take such situations with grace and dignity. 
That said…I want to ride my pony.
I’m playing with some new design elements for the blog.  I used to be pretty good at page design and HTML, but it’s been a long time and I’ve gotten pretty rusty.  Bear with me as fiddle around until I find the colors and styles I like.  It may take a while.  I think I might have settled on one that honors Mimi’s and my purple color scheme.  But I do need to do something about that top picture.  Eventually.  :)