Ride Story: Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75

Now that is how to wrap up a ride season. In the words of one of my high school ROTC teachers, “Finish strong.” In a season that was all over the place with changes of plans, lots of unexpected happenings, and numerous highs and lows, it felt good to wrap up the year on a high note.

The cliffnotes version: Cristina asked me to ride Atti in the 75 at McDowell. It was his first 75 (mine, too) and we finished with a strong horse who was still pulling on me at the end, in 5th place with a ride time of 12:49, and a finish CRI of 52/48. He was a blast to ride, and was a total rockstar all day long.


photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

The full-length novel version: Where do I even begin? After Virginia City, the plan was to go for the 75 at McDowell with Beeba — after all, we did 76 miles at VC, so McDowell should be doable, right? The pull at man Against Horse put the kibosh on that plan, and future endurance endeavors for her, and I went back to the drawing board. Not for very long, though, because the Monday after MAH, Cristina texted me to find out my availability for McDowell and if I wanted to take the younger horse she’s training, Cosmo, in the LD, while she took Atti, her more experienced horse, on their first 75.

Since I had nothing set in stone, she claimed first dibs on me, and I was happy to have offered what would likely be a fun, easy ride.

And then a couple weeks out from the ride, she asked if I might consider riding Atti in the 75 instead. Some of her personal plans had changed, and it worked better for her schedule to ride the LD…but she really wanted Atti to do the longer distance, especially given that 75s and 100s are in  short supply around here, so we have to take advantage of them when they’re offered.

Just to establish the significance of this offer: Atti is to Cristina what Mimi is to me. Super-special heart horses that we’ve poured our hearts and souls into. The level of trust and confidence she had in me to make that offer…I have a hard time putting into words just how much that meant to me.


This adorable face was still perky and earnest 24+ hours later.

Friday afternoon, I stuffed the back of my suburban full of food, clothes, and camping gear, and made the quick, 45-minute drive up to McDowell. It’s currently my most local ride, and it’s really convenient. I got my little camp set up, and a space saved for Cristina to arrive with her rig and the ponies later that afternoon, then wandered around camp and socialized for the rest of the afternoon.


Nasty little hitchhiker that was hanging out in my rolled up air mattress. Welcome to Arizona desert life.

Once Cristina arrived, we whisked the ponies off the trailer and immediately over to vet in  while it was still light and before dinner started.

Ride dinner was done Friday night before briefing…I’ve waffled back and forth on how I feel about this, since I do like a good ride awards dinner afterwards, and not having to cook after I’ve just been riding. But in this case, it was kind of nice to not have to meal plan, since dinner was provided Friday, and I would be riding through the dinner hour and living on a steady diet of pre-made sandwiches on Saturday.


Ride day food: a selection of turkey/cheese, pb&j, and tuna. A wide variety for whatever my taste buds wanted at the time.

I’ve ridden the McDowell trails for so long (one of my home training grounds), and done the ride multiple times, so knowing the trails was a major strength for me going into the ride. The park itself has all of the trails marked/signed incredibly well, and the ride maps/directions are very thorough. Not only a makred map, but written turn-by-turn directions, plus ribbons, laminated signs, chalk lines, and glow sticks out on the trails.

After briefing I did some last minute tack fiddling, switching out stirrups and adding a mini cantle pack to be able to carry electrolytes and carrots, and mixing up a bottle of said electrolytes.

Sleep didn’t come easy for me Friday night. As always, first night camping/staying anywhere is always more restless, and the back of the suburban is surprisingly not particularly soundproof, so I was hearing every noise and sound. Plus, being surrounded by windows makes it way too easy to always be looking out to see if the horse is still attached to the trailer, etc. I know I got some sleep, but woke up before my alarm was set to go ff, so used the time to just slowly start getting dressed and nibbling on some breakfast. My camp stove also picked this trip to stop working, so I had to suffer through the indignity of cold coffee to start my morning. (Which, funny enough, actually sat better than hot coffee does sometimes…)

This was probably the least nervous I’ve been at a ride start in a really long time. Atti reminds me so much of riding Mimi that I had the same comfort level with him as I do with her, and the same level of trust that a laundry list of shenanigans would not be forthcoming. He has the same kind of complete non-explosiveness/non-reactivity that Mimi does and I felt really relaxed and settled with him.

There were 12 starters in the 75, and since it was still dark for our 6AM start, we got a controlled start through the first couple of miles. There was a group of 5 of us that were sort of starting out together, but ended up spread out within the first few miles, and Atti and I found ourselves a nice little space bubble with Andrea and Lilly.


Just before sunrise.

The first loop has the rockiest parts of the whole trail, but overall the course is practically a groomed racetrack, especially compared to the last two rides. Andrea also did Virginia City and Man Against Horse, so we were laughing at the “rocky” sections this time, and reveling in the luxury of being able to “walk the rocks.”


A beautiful desert sunrise.

Part of the first loop trail is an out-and-back with a water stop and checkpoint about 10 miles in. We took a very quick break here — drink, electrolyte, duck behind a bush to offload coffee (and discover Atti believes in the tandem peeing phenomenon). The front-runnign 50s and caught us during this stretch, and heading back to the main trail is a lot of two-way traffic was people are heading to the water, and back out. It’s a fun section because you do get to see people behind you, and it’s always fun to say hi to friends along the way.


Obligatory, “oh, look, rocks!” photo.

Aside from being passed by the first half-dozen 50 milers, we had the most perfect space bubble for most of this loop, and we made really good time, taking advantage of the cooler weather while we had it.

The next water stop was at the maintenance shed, 21 miles in. It’s a great stop because volunteers can drive right up to it, so they are able to bring hay, plenty of water buckets and sponge buckets, and have a hose hooked up and available to spray the horses off. It was quite congested when we got to the stop, a conglomeration of all of the distances meeting at one place. We let the horses drink, grab some hay, electrolyted, and I gave Atti a quick sponging before hopping back on and scuttling out of there, trying to keep our space bubble.


Just after leaving the maintenance shed. Photo: John Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

I love this section of trail after the maintenance shed. It’s smooth single-track, just slightly down hill, and it’s a really fun ride. Atti and I were leading through here, and he just cruised through on light contact, effortlessly ticking off between an 8-9mph trot.

At the road crossing and water troughs just a couple miles from camp, we caught up with Cristina on Cosmo, coming in off her first loop on the LD, so we ended up riding back in with her, which made for perfect timing as Atti and Cosmo could spend their hold time together.


Wagon train heading back in to camp from loop one.

I took a few minutes puttering around at the water buckets (trying to find one that didn’t have bees in it, always a challenge at this ride…), but Atti had taken a huge drink just a couple miles before camp, so wasn’t particularly interested in drinking again so soon.

He was at 56 as soon as his pulse as taken (criteria was 64), and I took him right over to vet. Mostly As, and even a fairly cheerful trot-out, which he normally doesn’t really see the point in doing. We headed back to the trailer and I set him up with a buffet offering of different foods to appease his somewhat picky appetite.

Cristina helped crew me and Atti — gave him a sponge-down and wrapped his legs while I sat down and browsed through my food cooler. Got my hydration pack re-filled with water and snacks, tacked up, met back up with Andrea, and was at the out-timer 10 seconds before my out-time.

Both Lilly and Atti headed out of camp doing a bit of “drunken sailor” weaving down the trailer…trotting, but in such a manner that suggested they would be perfectly happy to turn around and go back to camp now, thankyouverymuch. It was about 11AM at this point, and starting to warm up. This second loop is always the warmest, with most of the trail being very exposed, and some sections with very little breeze or air movement.


The Scenic Trail trudge. That’s okay, Atti, no one likes this climb.

Shortly after leaving camp, the trail climbs to the top of a ridgeline on the appropriately-named Scenic Trail. It is very scenic, and you can see for miles around in all directions. It’s also exposed, has some rocky sections, and tends to be rather warm. So it can be a bit of a trudge-climb, but Atti handled it with really good humor and just kept marching along.

There’s a tendency to think of McDowell as a “flat” ride, because there appear to be very few visible climbs of any significance. But the GPS stats after the fact tell a different story.


While they aren’t huge elevation gains, there are several long, sustained, constant uphills that are 5-8 miles of steady climbing up. It doesn’t look that way from the ground — it looks really flat and very speed-friendly, and there aren’t many obvious spots to go “oh, great time for a walk break.” So we  utilized a “trot for x number of minutes, then walk for x number of minutes” strategy, combined with bit of a “trot to the next ribbon” approach. It worked, and we ended up with a pretty consistent pace and minimal sulking from the ponies.


“Granite Tank” water stop. This is the furthest point away from camp on this loop, and the horses are usually so sulky/pouty by this point. And then you make a turn and are directly pointed towards camp and they magically recover and get all perky again.


Classy dude. Decorations left over from the last couple weeks of trail races that had been held at the park.

Both Atti and Lilly drank really well here. I hopped off and electrolyted them both, as well as sponged their necks. The next section of trail was a really fun, slightly downhill single-track they just begs to be trotted, and would take us right back to the maintenance shed checkpoint again.


Trotting through a section of staghorn cholla “forest”

This section of trail used to be this long slog through a deep sand wash, but McDowell put in several new trails a couple years ago — beautiful, rolling singletrack that paralleled some of the old washes. These new trails make for so much better going and greatly enhanced my outlook on this particular ride.


Eating, drinking, and getting hosed off at the maintenance shed.

Back at the maintenance shed, we had a space bubble of just the two of us, and the volunteers that were running the check were friends of ours, so we stayed for several minutes letting the horses eat and taking some time to  hose them off and let them cool down a bit.


Leaving the maintenance shed on the second loop. photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

On this loop, instead of getting to go directly back to camp from the maintenance shed, you have to turn around and go back out in the opposite direction away from camp, go a ways down the trail, then pick up another trail that takes you back to camp. Most horses consider this cruel and unusual punishment. Not sure how much the riders love it, either.


Eastern side of the McDowells — I call it the “rock giants’ playground”


Snack break along the way

This ride only has two vet holds, so as a rider, it was really on me to take the time along the trail to stop and let Atti get some recovery breaks along the way, especially to eat. It’s really easy to get caught up in the nice trail and just cruise through the loops, so I was trying to be really conscious of looking for good areas to pause for a “grazing opportunity,” such as it was, since the whole desert is dry, brown, and crunchy right now.

Once we turned back for camp, it was a “all downhill from here” kind of trail, so we made some good time, although it was really getting warm out there. (Apparently parts of the trail hit 95°.) The horses drank well again at the road crossing water troughs, then boogied the last two miles into camp.

A significant milestone for me: this ride put me over my 500 endurance miles. That only took 12 years. Hopefully the next 500 don’t take that long. I feel like everything finally “came together” for me as a rider at this ride. In the past, I think I’ve been apt to not give myself enough credit, or just follow the lead of a more experienced rider. But this time, it was really on me to make sure I was making smart pacing decisions, really listening to the horse, and using my own judgment. It was a huge confidence boost to have everything go well and to finish so well, and while McDowell is a great “step-up” ride, it’s not an “easy” ride.

Atti was down at 52 for his pulse, and a couple more Bs on his vet card — apparently all completely within his “normal.” I repeated the same process as the first check: yank tack back at the trailer, set him in front of his buffet of goodies, wrap his legs, then sit down for a few minutes to eat/drink. Refill water pack, tack up, administer BCAAs.

I made a slight strategy error here. I was supposed to electrolyte him, but I was rushing to tack up and make my out-time, and my brain interpreted the syringing of his BCAAs as me having given electrolytes.

When I swung by Andrea’s trailer on the way to the out-timer, she told me to go ahead — she wasn’t feeling great after the heat on the second loop, so was going to stay back a little bit longer to recover.

Every ride, you have to go in with the mentality of being prepared to ride your own ride — riding partners get pulled, horses don’t pace well together, etc. Atti is used to training by himself, so I wasn’t concerned about that part. But given the drunken sailor routine at leaving on the second loop, I wasn’t sure what I was going to end up with when we went out a third time.

I opted to try for the “forward” strategy. I asked him for a nice trot up to the out-timer, and since we were right on our out-time, we got waved through and out onto the trail. Atti quite cheerfully trotted out of camp onto the trail, and not 100′ from camp, willing broke into a canter on his own and cantered the next 1/4-mile out of camp before slowing to his relaxed, 8 mph trot.

Okay, then. Guess he’s happy to be going out.


Out on loop three by ourselves.

Being out there by ourselves, I finally let myself get a little bit emotional/happy teary. He reminds me so much of riding Mimi that this felt almost like I was out there again with her. I thought it might make me kind of sad and remind me of all the ride goals I had for her that we never go to do before her retirement, but instead it was a reminder of how much fun I’ve had with her along the way, how much I’ve learned from her, and how much we were able to accomplish. I’m just glad she doesn’t have Facebook or the ability to read a blog, since she would be very jealous about all of my catch riding and “cheating” on her.

Atti maintained his good cheer for probably the first third of the loop. Then we hit one of those long, slow, uphill slogs away from camp, and some of the enthusiasm deflated. Cristina had told me he is a very honest horse, and that when he wants to walk, it’s because he needs it. So we walked a good part of the uphill trail section. I hopped off and did part of the trail on foot as well, a mix of running and hiking. I had done some of the second loop on foot, and it felt really good to get out of the saddle and stretch.

Once we hit the next trail section that was vaguely in the “homeward” direction, Atti perked right back up again and gave me his lovely, loose-rein trot.


Making it through the “trail hazards” section before dark.

Being out at dusk is an interesting time. I’ve noticed horses tend to be on higher alert as the sun goes down, since it’s often the predator dinner hour. Atti was definitely paying attention to things — he has a tendency to “peek” at dead logs and barrel cactus — but he was still forward and never spooked at anything.  It was also cooling down as the sun went down, and it was just breathtakingly beautiful to be out there that time of evening.


I love my desert.

We went to the maintenance shed one final time, and I ended up staying here for probably a good 15 minutes because Atti wasn’t eating/drinking the way I wanted to see. I don’t know if he was getting physically tired or more mentally tired/pouty because he was out there by himself and it was the longest he’d ever been, distance-wise. So I walked him from bucket to bucket, waiting for him to find one that met his approval, and hand-fed him bits of hay. After about 5 minutes of this, he finally decided to take a good drink, and started more actively munching at hay, so I spent another 10 minutes hanging out letting him eat.

It was full dark by this point, and once he indicated he was done with eating, we headed back out — another “head in the opposite direction of camp” trail, the same one we had come in to the maintenance shed on during loop two. Not two minutes out from the stop, we ended up crossing paths with Andrea, riding with Jill and Stephanie, on their way in to the minatenance shed. I didn’t feel like backtracking, so I told them I was going to keep on moving along, albeit probably slowly, and they would likely catch up with me.

So we trucked on through the dark. The qucik rest stop had perked Atti right up again, especially when I realized “duh, he drank, better electrolyte” and hopped off and quickly stuffed a syringe in his mouth. We alternated walking and trotting along — it was another long uphill grade, so we just took it easy. I also knew that once his buddies caught up, he would probably perk right up from the herd mentality, so I wanted to give him a couple more miles of letting him pick whatever pace he wanted.

It was so dark out there, and I gave up trying to determine what exactly was trail and what was just reflective glowing desert ground. Atti knew, though, and he never strayed off the path. So I sat back and let him do his thing. We actually made it the couple miles up to the Granite Tank water stop and were diving into the water there before the other three caught up with us. Atti had been drinking fine when we got there, but once he buddies showed up, he dove back into the water buckets with renewed enthusiasm. So there as definitely a bit of “all by myself out here, so I’m going to pout/sulk” mental stuff going on. Which, eh…for a first go at a longer distance, I think that was the only “wall” he really hit.

From there, it was only about 8 miles to the finish, so I joined up with the merry band of ladies, much to Atti’s happiness, and Stephanie and Hadji lead us home. I love riding at night…who needs Disneyland and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride? It’s seriously a fun rush, and so exhilarating. I hadn’t bothered with glowsticks, and had a headlamp as backup but didn’t ever turn it on.

The closer we got to camp, the stronger Atti got, until he was pulling on me as much in the last 5 miles has he was in the first 5. We all walked the last quarter mile or so in, and crossed the finish line in a ride time of 12:49. I think we ended up 5th out of 12? We were in 5th at the maintenance shed, then there was a finish line pull ahead of us, but Stephanie came in ahead of us at the finish. So I think 5th? Will have to confirm that when results come out, but either 5th or 6th. Pulsed down and vetted through immediately, with a finish CRI of 52/48. He thought trotting out was dumb, but he was still perky and talking to me even at the end, and he dove into his food when I took him back to the trailer.


Cristina’s parents had come to help pack up camp, and then take the horses to overnight at their place where they would have grass pasture turnout, so I wrapped Atti’s legs while they packed things up, and once he was settled and had some recovery time, loaded him and Cosmo up and they headed out. I retrieved my completion award (a fun color-changing clock) and top ten award (collapsible bucket), then headed home myself — my own bed was so worth the 45-minute drive versus staying in camp overnight.

That’s about the best way I can think to wrap up what’s been a very interesting 2017 ride season. This completion finally put me over 500 endurance miles…that only took 12 years. Hopefully it doesn’t take another 12 to get the next 500. Guess we’ll see what 2018 brings.

Memory Exercise: A Ride Story, One Year Later

I should win an award.  “Longest Time Waiting For Ride Story” or something.  It’s been a year since I did the LD at McDowell Mountain Park with Beamer, and I’m just now sitting down to write about it.  Timely reporting fail.  It wasn’t that the ride was bad, either.  I just lacked the motivation at the time to sit down and write.  Then we sold the horse, and I really didn’t want to write.  I think I’m finally getting to the point where I feel like writing again.  Not okay with the horse being gone…will probably never be fully okay with that, because that means being okay with where my life is at right now, and that’s not happening.

So we’re going to put my memory to the test, and see how much of the ride I can remember.  Fortunately, I’ve got a lot of pictures.  So even if the story doesn’t turn out to be very entertaining…enjoy the photogenic horse.


Going to the ride was something of a last-minute whim.  Well, last minute as in “a month ahead of time.”  A month to get Beamer, who had never really been out on his own, and who had had most of the summer off, back in shape.  Mimi was down for the count with an abscess, Dad was down for the count with being crazy-busy with work…I was without a horse, Beamer was without a rider.  Do the math, and between the four of us, we had one functioning riding team.

He did really well in the month leading up to the ride out on his own.  Dad and I took turns taking him out by himself at the San Tans, and he really impressed me, enough to where I felt comfortable with the notion of taking him to a ride, where we’d at least have other horses around us, if not riding with us.  Also bolstering this confidence was the discovery that my saddle fit him.  My designed-for-flat-wide-backed-horses-with-no-withers Duett actually fit him.  The Skito Dryback pad provided sufficient padding to keep the saddle off his withers, and after switching between Dad’s saddle and mine, there was no determinable difference in his movement.  All the sweeter for me, since I really love my saddle.  (As an aside…to date, that saddle’s been on four different horses for rides, and fit all four of them.  Four varying conformations.  Color me impressed.)


Fast forward to the Friday of the ride.  He loaded into the trailer with nary a peep (this horse has awesome trailer manners) and dug into his hay bag.  Mimi, stuck in the barn, was furious, and sulked in the corner of her stall as we left.  I tried to bribe her with food, but that only went so far…

McDowell is about an hour away from the barn, and an easy drive.  We got there early afternoon, and as soon as I opened up the trailer, Beamer looked around, gave the horsey equivalent of a shoulder shrug, and hopped out of the trailer.  I’m sure it really helped that he’d done two previous rides there — another reason I felt this would be a good ride for us.  This may have bitten us in the butt at some point…but more on that later.

We wandered around camp for a few minutes, him on a loose lead, taking in the sights.  Then it was back to the trailer, and he got installed on Mimi’s side of the trailer — and her HiTie.  He’d been on the HiTie approximately once before, and that was only after he had gone 25 miles.  Didn’t phase him at all, although he didn’t entirely catch on to the “I can turn myself around in a circle” concept.  He did like the “more moving space” concept.

If I didn’t know for a fact this was Beamer (and the blue
bucket to prove it), I would swear it was The Pony.

He’s a really good camper, and we ended up with horses next to us and horses behind us, so he was surrounded by a safe, horsey companion bubble.

Vet-In.  Dr. Rick knows me…and he knows Beamer.  Just not
together.  Had a couple moments of amused confusion.

We went over and vetted in, pausing along the way to explain to several people that “No, my pony didn’t grow; No, I didn’t technically get a new horse; Yes, that horse is familiar because it’s actually my father’s horse.”  Vetting went off without a hitch, and I have to pause for a moment to admire Beamer’s trot.  Even his lazy trot (which he did for that vet-in) is nicer than Mimi’s best trot. Arab versus non-Arab, I guess.  (And younger and sound versus older and fused hocks.)  He also vetted in barefoot, which was awesome.  Beautiful decomposed granite that makes up the parking lot means great footing for trot-outs.

My biggest challenge was going to be pre-riding on Friday.  It’s a necessity with Beamer.  He needs that time to blow off some steam, even if it’s just a couple of miles.  He’s usually higher than a kite, and feels like riding a powder-keg, per my father.  If we could get through this –alone — than we’d probably stand a chance of managing the ride just fine.  We just had to survive Friday afternoon.

I’ll admit — I had more than a few nerves going on at this point.  Beamer is a lot bigger than I’m used to (five inches, to be exact) and a very powerful horse.  He’d tossed me off on a couple of occasions very shortly after we got him, and I’ve been a bit wary of him ever since.  So we started off hand-walking down the service road the 25s would the starting on the next morning.  The other necessity for me with Beamer is a mounting block of sorts.  I don’t flat-mount 15hh horses.  About a hundred yards or so down the trail, I spotted some nice sturdy rocks just off the trail and used them to slither on.

Beamer was definitely up, and we tiptoed our way down the trail.  He gave me a couple head shakes on one of the downhills, suggesting how very much he would like to trot…and subsequently buck.  I declined.  We walked.  We probably went out another mile or so, then turned around.  Heading home, I allowed him some very brief controlled trotting moments.  He reminds me of a pressure cooker: You have to bleed the steam off slowly, in a controlled manner.  If you let it all out at once, your lid is going to explode and hit the ceiling.

Once we got back to camp, we stood around talking to a few people around the check-in/vet-in area, and he was great.  Standing there all relaxed and curious about what was happening.  He drank some at the trough, then we meandered back to the trailer.  He got dinner, and I got a ride briefing.

He was a great camper overnight…I never even heard him out there.  I did have to remember to talk to him when I’d open up the door, otherwise the sudden opening of the dressing room door would tend to startle him.

The Ride

Specifics escape me, but I want to say we had a fairly early start…6:30, maybe?  I was up super-early to allow myself plenty of time to eat, put Beamer’s Renegades on, mess with saddlepacks, and the whole “new and different horse” thing.  Fortunately, the vet check between Loop One (15 miles) and Loop Two (10 miles) was back in camp, so I didn’t have to pack the crew box or worry about getting food together.

Got my coffee and gave Beamer his breakfast, then set to work nibbling on something for myself.  I have to eat on ride mornings — years of show training instilled an almost instinctive ability to eat, despite nerves and busy-ness — but I can’t eat quickly.  In between bites of hard-boiled egg and peanut butter toast, I slipped Beamer’s boots on.  This horse was made for Renegades.  They go on so easy and fit his feet perfectly.  They were the one thing I wasn’t worried about at all, since I’ve been with Dad and Beamer for every one of their miles and seen their track record with these boots.

(He’s had two boots come off in a period of five years.  Earlier on, we had trouble with Beamer wearing out the Velcro straps very quickly, especially in the highs.  He’d drag his toes and roll the Velcro.  Shortening his toes ended that problem.)

Dad came up to crew for us, since home was only about half an hour away.  His help was appreciated, and most important, his moral support.  He knows the horse much better than I do, too, so he’d be able to give me feedback at the vetcheck of how Beamer looked.  (One of Beamer’s nicknames, given in one of my not-so-charitable moments, is “Sandbagger.”  He can be the biggest lazy-a** of a horse sometimes, and doesn’t necessarily love haaaaaard work.)  Dad knows the difference between “Sandbag Beamer” and “Tired Beamer.”

Dad was also responsible for getting a ton of pictures of us, since I wasn’t brave enough to bring my camera along.  I was planning on two hands on the reins at all times, never mind taking pictures.

Last-minute tack adjustments.  Yes, we are disgustingly
color-coordinated.  Did I mention it was a Halloween ride?
I wasn’t even going for the Halloween effect — it was the
Renegade Sport Orange subliminal color advertising at work.
If the color didn’t work, my Renegade t-shirt did.

Beamer is almost disgustingly calm on the ground.  Really, he has fabulous ground manners.  Please note the “no hands on the lead” display.  One of these days, I’m going to run across a horse that actually requires me to pay attention on the ground…

I did my last-minute tack fidgets, gave Beamer his accustomed couple circles of lunging, took a deep breath, and scrambled on.  It was still plenty early, and I had timed things just right to give me my accustomed 15 minutes of warm-up.  We walked up to the start and walked circles.  Most amusingly, the only behavioral indiscretion on Beamer’s part came when we’d turn and start walking away from the start.  He threatened to hop up and down a couple times, and then settled as soon as we faced the starting area again.

Up, but keeping it together.  The tail is only at half-mast,
which is a good sign.  The grin isn’t faked, either.

Okay, this is good.  He wants to go.

We started off pretty much in the middle of the pack, which is how Beamer prefers it.  The warm-up time allowed us to go right along at a trot.  He really held it together, despite the horse with the grass hula skirt that was right on his tail.  I could tell it was concerning him, so I let them pass, and he relaxed.

We hit a sand wash almost immediately, and I was able to let him move out at a nice trot.  I got a few head-shakes out of him when I’d check him, but again…keeping it together.

Alerting on the hula skirt behind us.

The wash was only a short stretch, and then we connected up to the Scenic Trail that runs along a ridgeline with a fabulous view of the Verde River in the distance.  Halfway up the hill, I experienced one of Beamer’s acrobatic feats.  Tired of me checking him, wondering why the horses ahead of him all disappeared around the corner, and concerned about the horses in the wash below us, he let out an impressive buck.  While trotting.  On a rocky singletrack.  Uphill.

This horse is an athletic freak.

I checked him, let out some colorful language, and we kept moving forward.  Made some pretty good time along the ridgeline, and he didn’t spook at the bench that Mimi always spooks at.  It’s really a pretty trail, and I love the 360* views.  When I’ve done the ride in the past, the 50s didn’t do this section of trail until the afternoon, and by then it was hot, and not nearly as much fun.

Down on the other side of the mountain, there was a water stop at the road, and the ride photographer stationed nearby.

Photographer Dean Stanton got a great series of pics.  B
was alert, a little wary, but the end result was beautiful!

 He wasn’t much interested in water, but given that it was only five or so miles into the ride, I wasn’t surprised.

Stopped for the road crossing.  He didn’t want to stop.

There were sufficient horses around us that he was plenty motivated to keep going, and wanted to do more than trot.  Given we had only gone about five miles, and given that he had already displayed some vertical hind-end enthusiasm, I elected for a trot.  He’s got a big trot when he’s motivated.

This section of the park is probably my least favorite, especially as you approach the northwestern-most corner.  The trail has a lot of blind curves and is quite brushy in some places.  B has never been fond of it either, but we made it through unscathed, with only one bike popping up behind us and startling B.

There was another water stop at the far end of this loop.  I actually hopped off here to adjust my pad (general endurance cut, no billet straps, so it tends to wiggle about under my saddle) and sloshed a bit of water on B’s neck.  He did not appreciate the gesture, even though he was fuzzy (I had clipped his neck earlier in the week, and braided his mane that morning) and getting sweaty.  He also didn’t drink.  Again, we’d only come 10 miles or so, but he usually drinks by this point.  Internalized nerves were probably interfering to some degree.

The benefit of riding a horse you enough is younger, tougher, and has more natural athleticism than your own horse?  You only lose a couple of minutes worrying about them before taking the tough love, “they’ll learn not to ignore water when it’s offered” tactic.  Me being me, though…I still worried a bit.  But I didn’t waste time trying to bribe him.  Found a suitable dirt pile and scrambled back on.  (13.3hh is sounding better all the time.)

A little ways past the water stop, one of my rear boot bags started flopping around, and I did my best to jerry-rig it in place without getting off the horse.  Also, with only using one hand, since I didn’t trust him enough to let go of both reins.  It sorta stayed in place…until we started trotting again.  Yanked it off and clipped it to the front of my saddle, where I could hold it in place.

Shortly beyond this point, we got off the nice single-track and into a wash.  A rather deep wash that’s really shrubby on both sides.  Beamer got very up and this point, so I hopped off to walk him, lest someone come up behind us and send him launching.  This was my major tactical mistake of the ride.  I got off to walk…and couldn’t get back on.  There wasn’t a good, safe place to mount, and whenever I’d go to get on, Beamer would sidle away.  So we walked.

Did I mention this wash was about two miles long?  I hand-walked all. of. it.  Unfortunately, this really cost us some serious time.  Finally got out of the wash and to the water stop.  Beamer drank, I sponged him, and tied my boot bag back in place.  And re-adjusted my saddle pad.  Again.

I was hot, sweaty, and a little bit peeved at this point, and a bit annoyed that there wasn’t a suitable place to get on.  (Ya think you should learn to flat-mount a tall horse, O’ Out-of-Shape One?)

So I ended up hand-walking out of the water stop.  Note to self: When someone offers to give you a hand, take them up on it.  Tried getting on a couple more times past the stop, and B wasn’t having it.  He was liking this whole “rider walks” gig.

Low point…leading out because I can’t figure out how to get
back on my horse.

I finally found a large pile of rocks that were used to surround one of the trail signs.  As Beamer sidled away one more time, the end of my reins might have connected with his shoulder, and I might have called him some very colorful names…but it made my point.  I was done with his games.

Funny enough, he stepped right up to the rocks after that.  Epic mounting fail on my part was what followed next.  I knew it was a bad spot to get on, but there was literally nothing else to use.  So as I hopped up and swung my leg, my foot hit the metal sign.

Kudos to Beamer…he really held it together.  That would have been enough to incite a bucking fit, but all he did was surge forward, with his butt tucked in concern and head up.  Fortunately I had my reins.  Only one stirrup, though.  So he redeemed himself, although I considered spooking him my revenge for the endless walking.

Now it was a mission to make up time.  We got trotting, and then cantering.  He’s got a great canter.  The textbook, rocking-horse kind of canter.  It’s not super-speedy, but we clip along, and it’s really surefooted.  Best part was the trail was a gentle downhill grade, and he felt perfectly balanced and comfortable.  (Can’t safely canter downhill on an already-downhill-built pony.)

Time was of the essence now…which is of course why he decided the water trough at the next road crossing looked delicious.  Guess he figured out that “use it or lose it” thing…

The way back into camp was The Wash that McDowell is infamous for — two miles of fairly deep sand.  Having done this ride twice, Beamer knows this wash.  He was a trooper heading down it, though — probably helped that we were heading for “home.”

Sorta dragging in at the end of Loop One.  Grin is for the
camera, since I was more grim at this point.

We trotted most of the back in, and I hopped off just outside of camp.  Dad was waiting for us, a bit concerned because we were pretty near the tail-end of the pack.

 By the time we walked in, I loosened my girth, let him drink, and removed his S-hack, B was down.  Wow, that horse pulses in fast.  (It was probably less than two minutes.)

He vetted in great…I want to say all As.

He doesn’t even look tired.  I, OTOH, look wilted.

We had an hour hold, during which time I managed to sit down for probably ten whole minutes.  (Tevis practice.)  I stripped tack for whatever reason, which is the first time I can recall ever doing so.  I suspect it had something to do with the heat, and the fact we were back at the  trailer, so could dump it on a saddle tack.  I think I wanted to pull the saddle pad out and reset the whole thing in an effort to keep the pad from wiggling so much.

In that hour, I managed to: untack, feed the horse, eat, pull off the annoying boot bags, check the GPS (alarmingly, the “15” mile loop was clocking in at 18), take a potty break, shed my long-sleeve t-shirt, re-tack, and be in the saddle again five minutes before my out-time.

A little effort, B?  Both of my feet are off the ground.

I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles.  I had an hour and half to finish.  I wasn’t sure I could make it…but I was going to try.

B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the “go” from the out-timer.

I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles.  I had an hour and half to finish.  I wasn’t sure I could make it…but I was going to try.

Waiting to head out on Loop Two.

B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the “go” from the out-timer.  I wanted to make sure he was plenty warmed-up so we could hit the ground running…okay, trotting.  I was determined to make every second of the second loop count.

The impressive trot lasted until we hit the sand wash again (all of about ten seconds…) and then it was back to peddle-peddle-peddle for the next two miles.  I’d get a bit of a peddle-trot out of him, then we’d slouch to a walk again.  Peddle-trot-slouch-walk.  There were two riders behind me, and we leapfrogged up the wash this way.  None of our horses were particularly motivated or wanted to lead, so the old “go ahead, follow the one in front of you” standby wasn’t working so well.  Once we hit the single-track again, he picked up.  (Why does this surprise me…it happened this way the other two times.)

Of course we had to stop at the water trough at the road crossing again.  After that, we did got a good clip going.  Until we hit the next wash.  B slowed down, but I wheedled, peddled, coaxed, cajoled, and encouraged him up the wash at a respectable trot.  Motivation was trying to stay ahead of the two ladies behind us.  He did really good, and got a lot of “atta boy” praises along the way.

Once we hit single-track, he picked it up again, and we really upped the speed with some nice stretches of cantering.  There was enough up and down on the trail that it really broke things up…good for the rest, but harder to keep up a good average pace.

The trail eventually looped back around to the same water stop from earlier in the day…and this time, I stayed mounted.  (She eventually catches on, that one…)  He drank, then we boogied.

I love this picture.  :)  Heading home for the final stretch.

We were both familiar with this stretch right after the water, and we flew.  I was so impressed with B…he was cantering along on a loose rein, cheerfully watching the trail.  At one point, we had an impressive skid moment…he hit a slick batch of decomposed granite and both hind feet skidded forward…and he never missed a beat.  Still kept right on cantering.  See above re: Athletic Freak.

We were clipping right along…came to the road crossing again, he drank (again), and then we hit the wash.  And B hit the wall.  Didn’t matter how much I begged, pleaded, peddled, cajoled, prodded, whatnot…he wasn’t gonna go.  Nope, not down that wash again.  He’d cheerfully walk out, but he wasn’t going to trot again.  Well, we had about a mile and half to go…and five minutes to make it.  Well, that wasn’t going to happen.

I was bummed, but resigned.  He’d done his best, and really, done more than I expected: 25 miles, all by himself.  I’m guessing he was just mentally done at this point and tired of being on his own.  We ended up coming in about 20 minutes overtime.  *sigh*  I’d called Dad from down in the wash to let him know.

Just as a courtesy, we pulsed down (B was something in the low 40’s, so he wasn’t physically tired, just mentally a bit done-in for the day.  He still looked really perky and was starving back at the trailer.) and did an exit check and turned in my vet card.

We took B back to the trailer and cleaned him up and let him rest while we packed up the trailer.  (Ooo, forgot how nice finishing while it’s still early afternoon can be.)

So I was really tickled with B, even if we didn’t officially complete.  But wait…there’s an epilogue to this story…


Remember when I said I GPS’d the first loop at 18 miles?  Well, when I pulled my boot bags off at lunch, I forgot to pull out my GPS to record the second loop.  A couple days post-ride, I get an e-mail from the trail master of the ride, wondering if I had a GPS track of the LD.  No, not the whole thing…but I have the first loop.  Okay, she says.  We believe there were some mileage discrepancies, and I’m going to go out to the park today and ride the LD trail myself.

A couple days later, I hear from her and the ride manager: the 25 actually GPS’d closer to 29 miles, therefore the mileage was being increased to a 30…and the completion time extended by an hour and fifteen minutes.  Which means we actually got our finish.  Yeah!!!

We ended up coming in 33rd out of 38, with a ride time of 5:32.

October 2011

I can’t believe how much of that I remembered.  It was clearly a good ride for me to recall so much.  I really had fun, and was pleased as punch with how Beamer did.