Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50

So, Man Against Horse happened back in early October…but things definitely didn’t go according to plan, so I’ve had a hard time mustering up the enthusiasm to write about it. Get through all 50 really hard miles…only to get pulled at the finish. I have to say, of all of the pulls I’ve had, this one probably sucks the most.

Short story: Beeba was off at the finish. The vet couldn’t even definitely pick a leg, just that she was “mild but consistently off.” And apparently she looked totally fine in her pasture once she got home later that evening. :/

I’m trying not to let the finish line pull completely cloud the good aspects of the weekend: riding and camping with good friends, some really good learning moments with pacing and smart trail strategy, the gorgeous fall colors on Mingus Mountain, the stunning scenery , and an overall fun time in the saddle.

But still, it stings. For whatever reason, I can feel good about the pull at Virginia City — we tried something hard, got the furthest we’ve ever been, and had a really good experience. This one? There are no good feelings about it. I’ve finished the ride before, she’s finished the ride before. It’s depressing and I’m bummed out about it. Also, to finish all the miles…but to ultimately have it not count for anything? Feels like a double insult.

Plus, a lameness pull makes me second-guess myself. What did I do wrong? Should I have slowed down even more? Done even more than I did on foot? Was it too soon after Virginia City? Should I have even started the ride? Y’know, all the shoulda-could-woulda armchair quarterbacking after the fact. Even a month later, I don’t know what I could have done differently, other than not ride.

It sucks, but we’ve concluded (based on not just these last two rides, but her entire ride history, which has been seriously up and down) that her forte is probably more as a LD/competitive trail horse rather than a 50+ miler. I’m bummed, because I really enjoyed riding her, and I let myself get way too excited and start thinking way too optimistically/far ahead with planning and future scheming.

Anyway, moving on to the ride itself. It basically took a village to make it happen. Kim wasn’t going to be able to ride, but I could still take Beeba, and she would come up and crew. I was able to find a ride for Beeba with a friend…but Barb was going to be working until late Friday afternoon and wasn’t sure when she would actually get to camp. So a convoluted plan was hatched, and despite the fact I felt like a flowchart was needed at times, it all ended up working out really smoothly.

  • Step One: Since Barb is about an hour away from me, and needed to leave for work early Friday morning, the plan was: drive my truck to Barb’s house Thurs night. Put all my ride stuff/food in her trailer, stay at her house overnight.
  • Step Two: Barb takes my truck to work. I load up Barb’s horse and drive her rig to Kim’s. Pick up Beeba. Kim follows in her car and we drive to the ride. Get camp set up and both horses vetted.
  • Step Three: Barb leaves from work Friday afternoon in my truck and drives straight to the ride.
  • Step Four: After the ride, all the stuff gets sorted into our respective vehicles, Barb drops Beeba back off at Kim’s, I drive straight home.

Endurance. It takes a village.

Ok, so we established that I drove the horses up to the ride on Friday. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with rig driving this year, and feel like I’ve earned at least fledgling membership into the “endurance girls who can drive anything” club.

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Piggies!! Javelina (collared peccary) family crossing the “road” into base camp. (Fun fact: Only very vaguely related to pigs.)

Base camp is a big open cow pasture on the Fain Ranch just outside of Prescott — open parking among the rocks and random clumps of cactus. A spot that was free of rocks was cleared, horses got settled, then I spent a couple hours puttering around and socializing before rider check in and then going to vet in.

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This is kind of fun, because I have virtually no photos of me vetting in at endurance rides. My showmanship and halter upbringing is showing through. (photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

After vetting in, I did a really short pre-ride with Beeba — meandered through camp, socialized along the way. Tried to head out along the finish trail, ended up feeling like I had a red-hot powder-keg under me. Errr, that would be a big old “nope” on that idea, so we walked politely(ish) back to the trailer red mare then got to trot schooling circles until she settled.

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pre-ride, acting fairly calm and innocent

One of the things I miss the most about riding Mimi in competition is her complete lack of explosiveness. She would spook at something, and be done. Interestingly enough, she had that “up” side that tended to appear at shows, especially large ones in new venues. But at distance rides? Never. Plenty of energy, and plenty of wanting to go forward, but I was never concerned about her bucking, rearing, spazzing and dumping me, or other variations of untoward behavior.

Friday evening, a couple dozen of us gathered for one of the “Zonie potlucks.” I’m skeptical of potlucks because so often it turns into everybody bringing a bag of chips or box of cookies and calling it good. Well, Zonies apparently love their food, because there was a glorious spread of main dishes, side dishes, and delicious homemade desserts. Yum. My contribution was a Mexican Street Corn salad, which seemed like a big hit since I only brought home a small amount of leftovers.

Ride briefing went by really quick — it seems like nothing had changed since the last time I had done the ride (2009). I should also add that this is my “anniversary” ride — it was Mimi’s and my first AERC ride back in 2005. We did the LD, and finished, and I’ve been hooked on this sport (despite questioning my sanity sometimes) ever since. 12 years in endurance…but that’s musings for another time and post.

Barb and I took the horses for a final walk around camp to stretch their legs, then retreated back to the warmth of the trailer. I was in bed at a decent time, and the 6:30 ride start meant the alarm was set for early, but not unreasonable.

Ride start nerves were out in full force again Saturday morning, albeit not as bad as at Virginia City. Barb and I waited back at the trailer until the pack cleared out (To recap: it’s an uncontrolled, “shotgun” start [at least they don’t actually fire a gun anymore] that drops through a rocky wash, then opens up through an open field. And you sort of just roughly follow along what used to be an old two-track road but has gotten fairly overgrown. Not a conducive environment for two horses who are not known for having the best start line behavior.

So we waited until a couple minutes after the start, hand-walked over to the start, mounted up, and headed straight out. Since the pack was pretty much out of sight, we were able to pick up a polite trot right away, and that was that. Beeba was settled within the first couple of miles, and she was perfectly happy to trot along behind Barb’s horse K-Man.

We kept it to a nice trot through the sand wash that is basically the first 5 miles of the trail — each year, it gets a little bit shallower and more trottable. By the time we headed out of the wash, we had caught up to the tail-end of the pack, and just kept steadily trotting along, catching and passing people.

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About 7 miles in, through the “rolling plains” section.

About 9 miles in, the trail hits one of my favorite sections: “the grapevine.” It’s roughly 7 miles up to the first vet check, and most of it is winding up through a canyon, twisting and turning in and out along a dry streambed, and then climbing up through manzanita bushes. So pretty, and so fun, especially on a athletic, agile horse.

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psychedelic endurance?

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out of the canyon and up into the manzanita. view is looking towards Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.

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in the manzanita tunnel, only a few miles out from the first vet check

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at the top of the climb, only about a mile from the check. (photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

The approach into vet check 1, Mingus Springs Camp at mile 16, is about perfect. A downhill onto a two-track road, with lots of space to jump off and lead in.

By the time we walked to the troughs and Beeba drank, she was pulsed down — to 52. Vetted through, and then she set to work remedying those B’s on the gut sounds. In the course of about 20 minutes, she managed to stuff in a whole pan of mash, some hay, and start eyeballing some of the other horses’ mashes.

It was bit of a novelty to have a crew there, and to be able to hand the horse off to Kim and sit quietly and work through my own food cooler. Turkey lunch meat, cheese stick, and pasta salad all disappeared quickly, and then it was time to put the bridle back on, tighten the girth, and mount up, right on our out time.

I had kind of forgotten about parts of the next section — it involves quite a bit of forest road, combined with some sketchier “trails” to get from one road to another. And a lot of rocks. SO many rocks. After VC and this ride, I may have threatened that I didn’t want to see anything but a groomed sand arena for the next several months.

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oh look, more rocks

Parts of this section are really pretty, because it’s at a high enough elevation that there are lots of trees around, and some pleasant shady areas. And once you’re on the roads, there is plenty of area to move out…in between the rocky areas.

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on the long road around Mingus Mountain

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scenic overlook: looking down into the Verde Valley, and to the red rocks of Sedona in the distance

The scenery through this section is amazing, though. It overlooks the whole Verde Valley, and out into the red rocks of Sedona. It’s stunning, and photos barely begin to capture the colors, let alone the feeling of that immense of a view. Just one of the reasons I love this state.

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rode for a while with Cristina and Atti through this section

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flying

The ride was perfectly timed to catch the changing of the leaves as well. Sometimes when it’s within the first day or two of October, the leaves have barely started changing, but the ride date ended up falling on the 7th this year, and that was late enough to start really seeing the leaves.

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who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons?

Contrary to popular myth, parts of the state actually do have four seasons. The Valley just isn’t one of those parts. But anything that’s higher elevation definitely does.

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water and snack break before the real climbing begins

To get to vet check 2, at the top of Mingus Mountain, there’s a 3-mile climb with an almost-2000′ elevation gain, with some parts through some technical single-track (read: stepping up through/over rocks and boulder on an uphill). It’s hard. It ate our lunches the first time we did this 50, and I hopped off and led Mimi through it the second time around.

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taking a quick breather in the shade

This time, I stayed mounted, but that was a climb that definitely took the wind out of their sails. Beeba was tired, and K-Man experienced his first “I think I met Jesus” moment there on the mountain when he slowed his relentless forward movement and voluntarily stopped to eat. Ah, nothing like a hard ride to teach them how to take care of themselves.

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steep, rocky climb

I honestly don’t remember the climb being that hard, especially the second half. Either I blocked it from my memory…or I never realized just how much of an amazing hill pony Mimi is.

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more climb

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postcards from Arizona

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those radio towers are where we are going

We finally, finally reached the top…there was a checkpoint and water there, and the horses really tanked up. We only stayed there for a couple of minutes, wanting them to keep moving rather than stand around and cramp up. It was a mile of easy service road into the check, and we moseyed, alternating walking and trotting, right into the vet check.

Beeba’s pulse down down, and she vetted through well — one standalone ‘B’ for impulsion, A’s on everything else. Kim had a nice spread set out — sun for the horses, shade for the riders — and we each set to work on our respective food offerings. About 15 minutes into the check, Beeba started shaking, and looked really stiff when Kim walked her. We threw another fleece on her, gave her extra electrolytes, and Kim alternated walking her and letting her graze. Apparently she did the same thing at the check last year with Kim — we weren’t sure if she was tying up, or just cold, because she’s very cold-sensitive, or the post-climb exertion.

Needless to say, that put a major damper on my mood, as I went from “feeling good” to “gut knotted with anxiety.” Kim took Beeba over to the vet and got the “all clear” — her muscles were good, all other parameters were good, pulse was low — so probably just cold/exertion. I was worried about taking her back out, but between the vet’s okay, Kim’s okay, the fact she had done the same thing last year, a decision to really take it slow on the last third, plus me getting off and running, we headed back out again.

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after vet check 2. cross training? (Photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

It’s pretty much “all downhill from here” after vet check 2, and I ended up hopping off and hiking/running any of the longer stretches of downhill. I could not believe how rocky and washed out this section has gotten. This was my absolute favorite part of the trail previously, because it was this smooth, flowing, slightly downhill single track that Mimi just flew down. Now, it was rutted, rocky, and a stumbling walk was the best gait we could hope for in many parts.

Right before we hit vet check three (a pulse/vet/go) I could feel Beeba take some funky steps when we were trotting along the forest road. Nothing I could pinpoint, but felt like there was a bit of a hitch somewhere in her gait. When we got to the check, we took a couple minutes to drink and pulse, then went over to vet. I had to trot her a couple times and the vet said she maybe saw “something” but just take it easy on the way back — which was literally all downhill at this point.

So we hiked out of the check, hit the section of switchbacks down Yaeger Canyon, and hiked and jogged the next several miles down the switchbacks. At the bottom of the canyon (and the last few miles into canyon) I hopped back on, but couldn’t really tell if it had made any difference or not. There was no definitive lameness, but she just didn’t feel 100%.

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Yaeger Canyon on foot

So we moseyed and took it fairly easy back into camp. Shoutout to Barb for being a real awesome riding partner and not ditching me. She certainly could have — K-Man was strong and had plenty of gas in the tank. But I really appreciated her sticking with me to the end.

Coming in to the finish, I was feeling a little hopeful — Beeba wasn’t 100%, but she wasn’t any worse. So maybe we would be okay?

Yeah, not so much. We vetted through right away, but after trotting back and forth a couple times, even yanking the tack and pulling her boots to check for any dirt/stones (nothing), it still wasn’t good enough to pass the vet’s scrutiny. They couldn’t even pinpoint a specific leg, just that she was “off.”

And that’s how I got my first finish line pull.

Barb and K-Man finished, and looked great.

Since it’s a close-by ride, we packed up camp, horses got their legs wrapped and a couple hours of recovery time, then we all hit the road. Beeba came out of the trailer sound back home and moseyed around her turnout looking none the worse for the wear.

Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan, and it kind of put a crimp in future plans. At this point, we’re operating on the theory that Beeba is probably a better LD/competitive trail horse than an endurance horse. These are not her first pulls, and it’s not fair to her, or whoever is riding her, to keep trying to pursue something that she’s probably not optimal for. It’s hard, because I really enjoyed riding her and spending time with her, and if she was my horse and the only option I had to ride (like it was with Mimi), I would probably spend the time and $ seeing if I could make things work. But reality is, she’s not mine, so it’s not my call, and I’m not going to put money into a horse that isn’t mine.

This has certainly been an interesting ride season, that’s for sure. And I say that with the full intent of “interesting” being used in the context of a curse versus a compliment.

Afterthoughts: Man Against Horse 2009

So, I’ve only been cogitating on this for a month, post-ride. before finally deciding there wasn’t much to add to it, and that I should just post it already.

A Combination of What Didn’t Work/ What I’d Do Different/What Worked:

– The worst part of the ride was the fact I had an agonizing pressure point on my right shin from the stirrup leather. I don’t know if it was caused from all the downhill trotting, or it I have too much padding (ski sock, tights, half chaps), or if my stirrup leathers are too short. My stirrups have been making a slow, downward migration in the two and a half years since I’ve had this saddle, and it might be time for another change. I had to stop trotting a few times and walk for a few moments, just to let the pain ease before continuing.  (A Month Later: I dropped my stirrups about half an inch, and it’s really comfortable.  The true test will be the next 50, of course, but they feel better already, and I feel like it’s easier to relax with them a touch longer.)

I also had some pressure on the inside of my thighs from the top buckles, but just about any stirrup leathers I try will do that – one of the compromises I have to make in riding Mimi in an English saddle. In order for stirrup bars not to put pressure on her flat back, they can’t be recessed at all, hence the buckles will out pressure on my legs instead. I’ve tried the Wintec Webbers, but they’re so thin, they feel flimsy, like I don’t have as much leg support.
– Still working on the saddle packs arrangement. I like the larger front packs, with very little on the back end of the saddle. However, I still think I’m going to make a separate little bag, long and narrow, to carry electrolyte syringes in that will tuck behind my leg or something.  (A Month Later: Am contemplating seeing if I can get a custom Snugpax front pommel bags, with the larger camera bag added to the top of the same style packs as I already have, which are the packs, with the water bottle holders.  Haven’t gotten anywhere with designing and making an e’lyte-holding bag.)

– This is one of the first times she’s come up with a slightly sore back at the end of the ride, and I don’t know if it’s just because it’s such a difficult ride, or what. I know at VC2, I had to adjust my pad where it had slipped back under the saddle too far, and instead of properly loosening everything, lifting the saddle and pad, and sliding everything back into place, I just loosened the girth, yanked the front edges of the pad forward, and re-girthed her. It’s possible this rubbed against the grain of the hair and could have set up a sore spot, I suppose. I’d really like to get another pad, one that’s shaped to the saddle and has either front ties or billet straps.  (A Month Later: I’m also starting to poke around the treeless saddle department, so all new purchases are temporarily on hold until I decide what I want to do and what I can afford.)

– I maybe could have done better in the food department. I ate decently, and felt really good all day, so maybe I didn’t do as bad as I thought. I just didn’t think I ate very much out on trail. Looking back, maybe it was pretty good. Food count (that I can remember):

Friday dinner: chicken/cheese ravioli w/ marinara sauce, Caesar salad
Breakfast: hard-boiled egg, slice of peanut butter toast, orange juice, coffee
Between camp and VC1: two slices dried fruit leather
VC1: peanut butter sandwich
Between VC1 and VC2: half a Luna bar, grapes
VC2: chicken lunchmeat slices, half a banana, half a PB sandwich
Between VC2 and camp: energy gel
Dinner: (YUM!) ribs, brisket, coleslaw, beans, peach cobbler, white wine
– What helped is that I drank well – I drained my 44 oz. Camelbak twice during the ride, and a bottle and half of the Succeed Amino sports drink throughout the ride. I took one OverDrive, three Motrin, and several electrolytes.
– This was definitely Mimi’s and my best ride yet. We didn’t have a single moment of disagreement or argument the entire ride, and neither one of us hit a mental wall. We both did a great job of staying chipper and perky the entire ride, and during the long section of road around the mountain, we maintained our cheer through song. (All: “She sings?” Yes, I do. Badly.)

– My rump rug irritated the hell out of me during the ride, because it kept blowing off Mimi’s butt and would dangle uselessly at her flank as we’d trot along, and I had to nearly dislocate ribs several time trying to turn around, straighten it out, hold it in place, and keep trotting.  (A Month Later: New rump rug made last night, my own custom design.  We’ll see how it works…it was too hot today to try it without melting the pony.  80* is not rump rug-appropriate weather.)

Ride Story: Man Against Horse 2009

The 26th Annual Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, Arizona, marks the 5th anniversary of my foray into the world of AERC and endurance riding. This was the first AERC 25-mile LD ride I competed – and completed. As such, this is a ride that has always held a lot of sentiment to me, and it’s a ride I’ve been able to go to every year since.
The previous year, 2008, my father and I had tried the 50-miler for the first time, but were pulled at 38 miles for being overtime. We were somewhat dismayed and disheartened that year, both from the OT pull and the shock factor: we had known the ride was going to be difficult, but we were still in for a surprise, made all the more difficult by the addition of some horrendous rain and wind that made for downright treacherous trails in a couple spots. Afterwards, I believe I said something to the effect of, “I will never ask Mimi to do that ride again.”

This year, circumstances were conspiring in such a way that it looked like we would end up missing this special ride. Part of me was feeling all right about this after last year’s attempt, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to face that mountain again. The other part of me wanted a grudge match and to redeem myself, despite my insistence that I wouldn’t.

At the last minute, life pointed us in a different direction and said, “You’re going.” It was very last minute – we made the decision to go the Thursday before the ride, about noontime. The rest of the afternoon was spent trying to fit all of our ride prep into one afternoon: clean out the horse trailer that hasn’t been used for an overnight trip since June, repack the trailer, bathe ponies, load hay/water, fetch the trail home to finish packing, and pack people stuff. I’m happy to report we managed to get everything done in about eight hours, and I was still able to fall into bed at a respectable time.

The nice thing about fairly local rides (just under a 3-hour drive from the barn) means that I don’t have to be up at oh-dark-thirty a.m., and can mess with fetching ice and packing up the food cooler in the morning. Dad and I are early-birds when it comes to getting to rides, even those fairly close by in our own state, and we pulled out of our driveway at 7:15, were at the barn by 8:00, and on the road again, ponies in tow, by 8:20.

The trip up was the best kind – uneventful, with nothing to report. We pulled in to ride camp just after 11:00, and practically had our pick of camping spots. Camp is a large cow pasture on Fain Ranch, and part of the fun of this ride is watching the cows meander along the outskirts of where all the rigs are parked and down by the vetting area.

Some history of the ride:

The first Man Against Horse race took place in 1983 and was conceived by Prescott, AZ residents Gheral Brownlow and Steve Rafters. Gheral was a runner and owned a store in town. Steve was a cowboy who worked for the Prescott Police Department and enjoyed riding horses. Rumor has it that they decided to put on the race while at one of the taverns on Whiskey Row in Prescott.

Ron Barrett, a local runner and endurance rider, became ride manager in 1988 and moved the ride from its original location at Whitehorse Lake to its current location at the base of Mingus Mountain in Prescott Valley, AZ. All proceeds and donations from the event go to support food banks in the area. Over the years, more than $100,000 has been given to feed the hungry.

Thanks to Kevin Myers for the summary of the ride’s history.

Man Against Horse is a very unique ride in that riders and runners compete alongside each other over the same courses. As far as I know, it’s the only event like it in the southwest. The horses really seem to enjoy sharing the trail with the runners, and quickly catch on to the idea of “chasing” after the runners. And it’s great desensitization and training for those who end up doing a lot of riding on multi-use trails.

Once in ride camp, we fell into our setup routine, which went like clockwork, despite not having done a ride since February. Guess we’ve got the hang of getting our “cowboy condo” (thanks, Dad!) set up by now. We took the ponies for a walk around ride camp, and I was super-pleased to see how well they handled the rocky ground with their bare hooves. Camp set-up was interspersed with some socialization time, and getting caught up with many people I hadn’t seen in quite a few months. One of the things I really miss when I’m not doing rides is the people – I’ve made so many wonderful friends in the five years I’ve been involved in this sport.

We’ve been experimenting with doing our own trimming for the past three months now, and from my completely unbiased perspective, I think their feet look really good. Every year I’ve done this ride I’ve been in boots of some sort, and every year up until now, I’ve had to have Mimi booted to even walk around camp. It was very gratifying to see her marching over the rocks without a single flinch or misstep.

After camp was set up, we had enough time to go take our pre-ride, and registration and vetting hadn’t yet started, so we saddled up and headed out for an easy, couple mile stretch out from the finish line and back. This section of the trail is open cow pasture, and by taking a peek at it the previous day, I get a heads up as to any new gopher holes that might have cropped up and would be disastrous to ride over.

Both ponies were really good, although Mimi wanted to keep wandering off the trail and go exploring in some of the side washes where the cows like to hang out. (Cow Pony R’ Us) After determining all their legs were still properly attached, and their brains appeared to be settled between their ears, we headed back to the trailer, socialized a bit along the way, then untacked the ponies. While they were munching, I scurried over and got us registered, and after quickly brushing the brown Prescott dust from their legs (an exercise in futility), we headed over to the vet line.

We vetted through without incident, although her trot-out set what would be the continuing trend for the weekend. Mimi is called the “eggbeater” for a reason when she trots. She is 16, and has fused hocks. Her trot always looks a little bit stiff, because it is. She lacks a lot of the flexion in her hocks that would produce a smooth, floating trot, and that makes the vets look twice at her. Both in the past as well as this weekend, I’ve been very fortunate to have vets that were willing to hear out my explanation for why she moved that way, instead of arbitrarily pulling me for “funky” movement, and for that, I thank them.

After vetting, it was time to go over to Kirt and Gina Lander’s trailer and pick up our new pairs of Renegade Hoof Boots. This ride also marks the fourth year of us using Renegades, and of meeting Kirt and Gina along the trail at the first water stop, and realizing they were the ones responsible for those cool new boots our vet had directed us to.

At this point, I would like to pause and thank Kirt and Gina – their boots were one of the key factors in getting us through this ride. The Renegades offered fabulous protection from the rocky trails, and we were able to trot over parts of the trail we would have otherwise been forced to walk. They offered fantastic grip during the grueling climb up Mingus Mountain, including the parts that involved scrambling over large boulders in the trail.

We put the boots on Saturday morning, and never once had to touch them for the rest of the ride until Saturday night after vetting out. Their feet looked fantastic – no rubs or bruising anywhere! The boots stayed in place perfectly and didn’t move or spin at all.

Thank you to Kirt for taking the time to look at their hooves and give them a rasping touchup before fitting the boots. Mimi’s custom-fitted, Equithane-molded hind boots did fantastic, allowing a tiny, almost 000-sized hoof to fit securely into a 00 boot. Her feet have grown since we switched to Renegades…where she had been a 000 on her front feet as well, she is now a 00. Dad’s horse Beamer also moved up in boot size on his front hooves at this ride, from a 1 to a 2.

After getting our boots, it was time for ride briefing, which was fast and informative, and we were able to get back to the trailer in good time and make a fast dinner of ravioli and Caesar salad. While dinner was cooking, I was multi-tasking, mixing electrolytes for the next day and gathering up the last of the essentials to go in the crew box. This was another new experiment: the crew box.

Up to this point, we had been using first one, then two, crew bags, and I wanted to find a way to consolidate, and make things easier to carry, as invariably, one crew bag would end up being streamlined but heavy, and the other would be filled with the lighter but bulky items. In short, the box was fabulous! I could fit everything I needed in it, save for the hay, which went in a bag that got strapped on top of the box. Unfortunately, the bungee cords went on walkabout some time during transport, but not too many people tie their hay bags together with lime green shoelaces, so I was able to easily identify it. Next time, I’ll look for more of a buckle-type strap to go around the whole box.

After dinner, a final stroll to the large water tanks around ride camp with the ponies, and topping off their hay bags, it was time for bed: yet another night of getting to bed at a respectable time. Not that it made much of a difference – I had a very restless night, waking up at least once every hour, drifting off only to wake up again, tossing and turning. Needless to say, I was very glad when the alarm went off at 3:15 Saturday morning.

Yes, I’m an insanely early riser on ride mornings, mostly because there’s a lot of stuff I can’t do until the morning. I typically pack the crew box cooler Saturday morning, as I have a hard time thinking of what I’ll want to eat during the ride until that day. There are also the ride-only things that end up going on my saddle: extra Renegades, small pack for carrots, camera, e’lyte syringes, rain jacket, and rump rug. All of that ends up being easier to put on after Mimi is saddled, since it’s less weight to heave up over her back.

Ride start was at 6:30, with a 6:15 check-in. Both Dad and I were mounted by 6:10, checked-in, and then had the rest of the time to use as a warm-up before the start. The start is situated on a double-track dirt road that dips through a small wash, climbs a slight incline, then drops down to the wash that makes up the first five miles of trail.

Come 6:30, the trail opened, and we found ourselves being whisked along in the middle of the pack – right where we wanted to be. We’ve found that Beamer especially does best when allowed to start along with all the horses, versus being held back. Starting with the pack give him something to focus on – namely, the other horses – and he thinks move about moving forward than moving upward. It was one of our smoothest ride starts, despite Mimi tossing in an uncharacteristic leap of protest at being held back as we crossed through the wash at the start.

The first five miles of trail are mostly in a sand wash that is great for trotting. There were a couple of sections of rocky areas to walk through, but it seems like the wash gets shallower and more trottable every year. This part seemed to zoom by this year, despite having a few moments of “how am I supposed to go 50 miles” when, at around mile 3 or 4, my lower back started whining, my feet went numb, and my legs started wondering how long they could keep up posting. The feeling passed pretty quickly though, and my body settled back into ride mode in short order.

This ride has a lot of checkpoints, courtesy of the county Sheriff’s Jeep Posse. They man the runner’s aid station and take numbers as you pass. They also generously share runner goodies with the riders, a very welcome treat. The first of these many checkpoints is at the 5-mile mark, where we stopped very briefly, split a bottle of water (that was really nice, being able to get a lot of water along the way without having to carry a ton of it on either my person or saddle), and continued on. From here, the trail climbs out of the wash and onto double-track dirt road that winds across rolling meadows at the foothills of the mountains.

Next checkpoint was 7 miles in, and the first horse water available. Neither pony wanted to drink, although Beamer tried to sample the algae growing in the trough. Euw. That was just fine, as there was another trough at the next checkpoint, 2 miles up the trail.


At mile 9, both ponies drank, both riders got off for a quick stretch, and then it was back on trail – the start of what is called the “Grapevine,” a single-track trail that winds up through a canyon and eventually deposits you onto logging roads that take you into the first vet check. This section is one of my favorites. It’s a lot of technical single-track that tunnels through huge stands of scrub oak and Manzanita bushes. Definitely a good section to be wearing half chaps.

Up to this point, Beamer had done the majority of leading, but now it was Mimi’s turn. She’s aces when it comes to hills, especially the kind that involve a lot of twisting, turning, and smart footwork. Her small size and compact build really come in handy on a trail like this.

It’s a 7-mile climb up to VC1, but most of it is slow and gradual, so we were able to trot most of the way to the vet check. We hopped off right at the VC, walked them over to the trough and let them drink, and by the time Beamer was finished drinking, his pulse was down, and Mimi followed suit a minute later (parameters were 64 all day, I think Beamer was at 48, Mimi 60). We were probably in the check a total of three minutes by the time they pulsed down.

It was here I gave up on my heart rate monitor. I haven’t been riding with it of late – my belt for it broke, I’ve yet to get another one put together. and didn’t have time before the ride to remedy that – so I carried the transmitter with me and wore the watch, thinking I could just hold it on her side at the VCs and see when she was down. I attempted this idea at VC1, and gave up when I got a reading of 90 to the pulse-taker’s 60.

VC1 was a hold time of 30 minutes. After pulsing in, we immediately went over to vet in. Both vetted through great, and we found a nice, half-sunny spot to settle in for our remaining…15 minutes. Where does the time go? Dad held the ponies while I grabbed the crew box, draped fleece blankets over their rumps, and laid out pans of sloppy goodie mix, carrots, and hay. I shouldn’t have bothered with their exotic goodie mix concoctions (beet pulp, flax, probiotics) at this ride, as they only wanted hay and carrots. I also used this time for a potty break – ooo, Porta-Potty, very civilized – then traded off pony-holding duties.

Dad and I each ate a peanut butter sandwich, and I amused those around me by multitasking, sandwich still stuffed in my mouth. I believe in eating on the go. The rest of the time was spent refilling water bottles, carrots in the saddle pack, and on-the-trail munchies, then all too soon, it was time to pack up the box, tighten the girths, find a mounting block, and head out…right on the dot at 9:42.

The section after the VC is an old logging-type road that climbs up and down, and up and down, and up and down, drops down onto a gorgeous section of single-track that runs next to a dry streambed, then reaches the next big checkpoint at mile 20. There’s water here for the horses, and they drank again. Shortly after the VC, we met up with Bobbie Jo Lieberman and her Morgan mare, Excalibur Annakate, and they would remain our riding partners for the rest of the day. All three horses paced well together, and got along with each other. There were a couple of dirty looks passed between the two mares a few times, but I consider that par for the course with mares, especially mine.

The next nine miles after the checkpoint at mile 20 is a wide, forest service/logging-type road that winds around Mingus Mountain. It is a mix of being rocky, hard-packed, and pleasant. The first several miles (an approximate guess, since I don’t have a GPS) are rocky, but trottable, especially if you’re wearing hoof boots. The middle three miles are the most unpleasant – large swaths of loose rock, slabs of rock, or a combination of both. It is also out in full sun, making it the warmest part of the ride. However, with highs in the low 70s, even this wasn’t unpleasant.

The view from the road is incredible, though, and in a way, it’s kind of nice to have to walk part of the way, as it allows you to take in the view. At one point, it’s possible to see all the way out to the Sedona red rock canyons, and the whole of the Verde Valley is laid out before you. The camera can’t even begin to capture the panoramic magnificence of the view.

The last three miles or so of the road are really nice. The rocks seem to disappear, comparatively, and you can really fly through this last section. There are sporadically placed culvert alongside the road, though, which makes for some interesting duck-and-weave maneuvers as you go trotting past. Metal culverts = Mimi’s mortal enemy.

At the end of the road awaits what most consider the toughest part of the ride: a three-mile climb up Mingus Mountain, with an elevation gain of about 1800’. (Did the little voices just start chanting, “Tevis training, Tevis training, Tevis training?”) At this point, the trail turns from road into single track, and starts moving upward.

This was our lowest point last year, when, partway through the climb, Mimi slipped on a very tricky, technical section of the trail and we nearly wiped out. All of that was not helped by the fact it was really wet, muddy, and slick last year. This year, the weather was on our side, and the trail seemed to be in great shape. However, remembering last year, I hopped off Mimi in advance of the tough area, which involves a steep climb, sharp switchback, and immediate step up/jump (depending on your horse’s height and leg length) over a rocky ledge.

She clearly remembered last year’s episode, and kindly stopped before the jump up the ledge to let me scramble ahead, then gamely jumped up after me. Good girl. We took a five minute break here in order for me to relearn how to breathe (I don’t do well at elevations) and when Mimi started pulling me down the trail again, I hopped back on to ride her the rest of the way.

Partway up the mountain, we happened upon an unexpected trail occupant: a Green Mojave rattlesnake. Bobbie had been leading the way, with us about a hundred feet behind her. She called back to say she heard something that sounded like rattling behind her, and just about that time, the trail in front of us exploded in a hissing and rattling storm. Beamer slammed to a stop and backed up several yards until he ran into the immovable barrier that was the pony, and we watched as a large snake slithered across the trail and draped itself over a rock about five feet off the trail. After standing there for a couple minutes, trying to determine if the snake was going to keep going, or if he was settled in for the duration, we quickly scurried past him. As if climbing the hill wasn’t enough to get the heart rate going.

The rest of the climb up the mountain is fairly slow-going in most places. There are a few places where you can pick up a trot and make some time, only to slow down within a couple hundred yards to pick through more rocks. It’s the climb that keeps on going – when they say you’re going to the top of the mountain, they mean the very top. Near the top, there’s one final section that involves some deft maneuvering over and through some boulders in the middle of the trail, but Mimi-the-mountain-goat scampered right through it without a hitch. Her little feet come in handy sometimes – she can use tiny crevices and spaces in between rocks as footholds, and pick her way through a tricky section, versus having to leap over a large boulder in one go.

After reaching the top, it’s another mile of blissfully flat forest service road into the vet check at 33 miles . We walked this road as a chance to let the ponies cool off and stretch out after the hard climb. I was ultra-conservative and ultra-paranoid at this ride, as Mimi has had some problems in the past with muscle cramping, so I rode with a rump rug, and religiously whipped it out every time we stopped for more than thirty seconds. That, combined with a more aggressive electrolyting protocol, must have helped, because there weren’t any signs of some of the problems we’ve had in the past.

The vetting portion of VC2 was a repeat of our check-in that involved the vets looking at her cross-eyed as we trotted out, and my heart just sank when I heard the dreaded words, “Trot her out again.” Oh, no. No, no, no. Don’t tell me we just climbed all the way up that %#*^ mountain only to get pulled.

So we trotted again. My legs weren’t being the most cooperative, and the trot-out area was in a small mountain meadow covered in grass that hid a lot of dips and ruts – hard terrain to move out in, which meant we were trotting pretty slow, and the slower she trots, the funkier Mimi looks.

She didn’t look any worse the second time, and even after a very thorough check up and down her legs, she wasn’t showing any signs of pain or soreness, and her heart rate was all of about 48 at this point, the vets ultimately left the decision up to me as to whether I wanted to continue.

There was no doubt in my mind at this point: Absolutely! I know my pony, I know how she moves. She was moving totally normal for her, she was bright-eyed, and her metabolics were great. When she’s uncomfortable, her pulse is sky-high, or it hangs in the mid-range, and she won’t eat. Well, her pulse was down, and she was starving. I often think I over-pack the amount of feed for VCs, but this time, I barely brought enough. They decimated a flake of alfalfa between the two of them at VC1, and at VC2, they each polished off half a flake of alfalfa, half a flake of Bermuda, a couple carrots, and a few scraps of someone’s oat/grain mix leftovers.

Oddly enough, neither of them touched their carefully prepared goodie mixes. And I even left the electrolytes out. VC2 was a longer hold – 45 minutes – and I used the time to feed myself and Dad, refill water bottles and my Camelbak, restock on carrots, and stuff more snacks in the saddles.

All too soon, it was time to go…where does the time go at these vet checks? I don’t know how people manage to sit down and take a break at them – my only break seems to be when I pause to go take a bathroom break. Maybe it gets easier and more streamlined as you go along. Or maybe I need to start trying to wrangle people into coming to crew for me.

We headed out, right on time (yeah!), and moseyed down the trail until they were warmed up, then set off again at a nice trot. At this point, the trail starts heading down the mountain, and was a mix of forest roads and single-track. And rocks. A lot of rocks in this section, and I was so glad for the Renegades. All three of us were riding with Renegades, so were able to move out over the terrain.

Five miles after the vet check, we were back at the same checkpoint as mile 20. Last year, this was where we got pulled. This year, we paused to let the ponies drink, then continued up the road at a brisk trot. This section was fun – a couple miles of forest service dirt road, and we really moved out, even letting the ponies “race” at a canter for a few minutes.

At mile 40, we turned off the road onto what is my new favorite section of the ride: a 3-mile stretch of single-track trail that slowly winds down the mountain, trottable 95% of the way. Mimi led through this section, and we a had a blast! These are her favorite kind of trails, and she just zooms her way through the trees and up and down the hills. This was the section of the ride we missed last year, so I was really excited to be able to make it this year, and Mimi picked up on my excitement, since she practically bounded through here, and before we knew it, we were at VC3 – a gate-and-go style check at mile 43. At this point, the trail meets up with where the 25-milers came through after their hold at VC1, and leads home. All of our ponies had done the 25 before at this ride (Mimi three times) so they knew the way home.

We vetted through quickly, then were off again. At this point, it’s seven miles to the finish. The first two miles are somewhat narrow single-track that switchbacks down the mountain. Mimi wanted to really zip through this section, but begrudgingly acquiesced to my more delicate sensibilities (“No, don’t go racing through here, there’s no catch vegetation!”) most of the way down. It is entirely trottable if you have nerves of steel and need to make up time, but we were still doing okay, time-wise, so we walked part of it and trotted part of it. (Tevis training, right? Actually, truth be told, after riding part of the Tevis canyons over the summer, I found this to be a bit scarier – it’s more open than the canyons, despite a lot of Manzanita catch-vegetation.)

At the bottom of the mountain, it’s a mile of mostly-smooth, double-track dirt road, and we made up a lot of time here, although I had to stop a couple times to accommodate and give my right shin a break, since the pressure from the stirrup leather was reaching the knife-burning sensation level. Another mile on the “power line road,” a wide, hard-packed road that leads back to residential areas, and then camp was in sight.

Two miles across a wide-open field, following a cow path, and we were DONE! We slow-trotted the last mile or so, then walked the last 100 yards to the finish line. Mimi had her “pony march” going, and was out-walking the “big horses” to cross the line first in our group. In her mind, she won.

I know it’s not official until the vet-out, but I knew we had done it. We finished what I would consider to be one of the toughest 50s in the Southwest Region. People were still waiting at the finish line for us to come in, and as soon as I heard their applause, I couldn’t hold back the tears – of joy, of amazement, of absolute pride and wonder for my little Go Pony. She was still bright-eyed and marching, 11 hours and 45 minutes after our start, and after I dismounted, she dragged me over to the water trough to drink.

I whipped the rump rug out, pulled off her leg wraps one final time, and took her over to vet out right then and there. She vetted through great, and the adrenaline from the success of finishing the trail and crossing that line was enough to motivate me to run as fast as I could for the trot-out. That trot-out score was her best of the entire ride.

They were sufficiently cooled-out enough to be able to take them back to the trailer, untack them, blanket them, and leave them to large amounts of grass hay to munch. Last year, we came in so late, we didn’t get dinner. This year, we were still in time to get more than enough of the fabulous barbeque dinner: ribs, melt-in-your-mouth brisket, coleslaw, beans, and peach cobbler. And wine. A finish like this deserves celebration.

The awards for the 50 milers include the coveted silver buckle for finishers…the start of my ride buckle collection! We also got hats, and the t-shirts that all participants get. After dinner, we took the ponies for a walk around camp, let them drink from the troughs, and then left them to sleep, stockpiled with a large amount of food to munch overnight.

A phone call and a few text messages later to spread the word, a “sponge bath” with baby wipes, and it was time for bed. During the night, a storm front started moving in, and despite being exhausted, I kept waking up every couple hours to howling wind outside. At 3 a.m., I finally woke up, in need of Motrin…which was in the truck. I pathetically crawled out of bed and out of the dressing room, but I was glad I went outside when I did. Both ponies had eaten nearly all of their hay, so I gave them a refill, grabbed my Motrin, and went back to bed again, this time until about 6:30.

When I woke up the second time, it was light enough for me to see the formation of storm clouds in the mountains, which was enough to get me out of bed and moving – I had no desire to pack up camp in the rain. Dad woke up shortly thereafter, and in between packing, we took the ponies for another stroll around camp. Mimi was moving much better than I was, which is to say, she was striding out energetically, eyes still sparkling, moving from water trough to trough, and sampling leftover hay left behind vacated camps, while I pathetically lurched alongside. (Don’t I get any credit for sparkling eyes, too? My muscles might have been screeching obscenities at me, but that didn’t diminish the joy I felt over our finish.)

By 8:00, we were packed up and pulling out of camp, just as a few rain splatters started coming down. Good timing! The drive home was just as uneventful as the trip up, and we unloaded two very happy ponies back at the barn. We turned them out in their pasture to roll and drink before bringing them back in for a quick bath. Fortunately, the weather was still warm enough down in the Valley to be able to hose off the sweat and dirt from the weekend. Then they got to roll again. Life is good. :)