2020 Ride Season Wrap-Up

Alternate title: “What ride season?”

An accurate visual representation of 2020 on the whole.

To be fair, it’s better than some of the years I didn’t get to any rides at all…but even then, there were usually plenty of volunteer opportunities, crewing shenanigans, and overall good spirits to counter the “not according to plan” outcomes along the way.

She wasn’t according to plan, either, but has been an amazing bright spot.

The new AERC ride season starts Dec 1 (I still don’t know the rationale behind a season that runs Dec 1-Nov 30)…but the calendar year is still 2020, so my approach is a decidedly low bar of expectations, starting with “just getting to the ride,” since the latter half of the season, my plans to get Liberty to a ride got derailed on multiple occasions.

The season started well, with a super-fun LD on Atti at Dashing Through the Trails. And then the wheels promptly fell off the bus at the Tonto Twist 50 where we were pulled for lameness at the finish with what turned out to be the culmination of an ongoing, off-and-on suspensory issue. And thus my spring ride plans went the way of the dodo.

The pups and I volunteered at the Wickenburg ride at the end of the month, doing everything from timing to P&Ring to vet scribing. The AERC Convention managed to happen right on the cusp of the entire world collectively imploding, and then from that point on, the wheels fell off the 2020 bus entirely and there was no more ride season to be had until late fall, when things have slowly, albeit restrictively, started to happen again.

Bringing Liberty home over the summer was a definite highlight of the year, and even though she tosses some challenges my way here and there, bringing her up to condition and working on her training has given me a lot more purpose and motivation in my riding, and having the aspects of “still needs some training” gives me something to focus on and work on even when the competition goals may be a nebulous and ever-moving goalpost, depending on what is actually able to happen or not.

With Mimi, there’s not a lot of training to be done anymore. She knows her job, and really prefers for me to not micromanage her, thankyouverymuch. So arena work isn’t her idea of fun, at all, anymore. Trails or bust.

Fortunately, I was able to grant the princess’s wishes a few times this fall and she is still so happy to get out on the trail.

But I don’t always have time to hitch up and haul out to trails (and the state land by the barn I used to be able to ride just sold off to a homebuilder, so goodbye riding space and hello even more traffic and an endless sea of tile roofs), so sometimes arena riding has to be a thing still, and fortunately, Liberty is in a phase where she benefits from arena work just as much as trail conditioning.

All that said, today is officially the start of a new ride season, and I’m doing a lot of breath holding and finger crossing that it ends up being fun, productive, and above all, sane and normal. Here’s hoping, at least.

New Horses Are Rollercoasters

I got a bit off track this month for blogging…not for lack of content, but more getting sidetracked and before I knew it, it’s the end of September.

We’re two+ months into things with Liberty, and after the one-month honeymoon, the hamster started falling out of the wheel a little bit, and we’ve definitely moved into the period of ups and down and the testing phase.

I’ve had her out on trail twice and she’s been brilliant. She’s bold, brave, forward, thinks before she spooks (if she even bothers to spook…she’s much more inclined to stop, think, process, then move on) and seems to love being out on trail. The arena, not so much. We’ve also got a major hiccup in our trailer-loading abilities. So more of this month has been spent on ground work and arena work versus trail work. I’m not concerned about that part, I already know she’s a good trail horse, and conditioning miles are all she needs out there. But I want her solid and reliable and cooperative on the ground and in the arena as well.

We’re also doing little things like working on polite syringe protocol. She’s another one that hates being syringed, but she’s a heck of a lot harder to wrestle with than the 13.3hh pony (who pretty much just protests for form these days), with a nasty habit of slinging her head around and bashing it into whatever happens to be in her way.

So we’re going back to square one, starting with syringing yummy things like date syrup or molasses from a syringe. I think it’s working, since I caught her making a grab for the ziploc bag I store all the syringe and electrolyte accouterments in and attempting to liberate the syringe. We’ll see if she still feels that way when I start incorporating the salty stuff, but for now, she’s happily trying to chomp the syringe in half.

I’m also addressing some of the “make sure there’s no physical issues to give rise to objectionable behavior” angles — such as, she needs her teeth done, which may be part of why she can be fussy and resistant to the bit. Given I’ve tried half a dozen bits on her, and she hasn’t seemed to love any of them (and downright hated a few of them), I’m inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt in this regard and think that this may be her way of saying “ummm, this is not comfortable.” So, teeth get done this upcoming weekend, after which time we’ll then resume re-assessing bits and hopefully moving forward with more momentum.

But even with some of the ups and downs, I feel like overall we’re still making better forward progress than steps back, so I call that a win. Although I did cancel our entry to the fun ride at Man Against Horse — I want her to be more solid with the trailer, as well as there’s some modifications I want to make to the trailer for it to be more storage-friendly/useful. In addition, I didn’t get her out nearly as much as I would have liked to (horrible air quality for several weeks, the aforementioned loading issues, picked up some extra work on weekends…so, y’know, life) so instead, we’re aiming our sites on the LD at the McDowell ride in November, and then another LD at Estrella in December.

And ultimately, at the end of the day, she still makes me smile.

Mimi got to go out a couple weeks ago, too. After Liberty’s steadfast refusal to load on day 2, I didn’t want to get into another battle with her more than i already had, so she got stuffed back into her stall, and Mimi got to go out. And she made a liar out of me — with her complete lack of enthusiasm for working in the arena, I figured she was done, and ready for total retirement. But I had committed to meeting a friend to babysit her on her new young horse, so I figured at worst case, I could hand-walk Mimi for the 5 or so miles we were planning to go. As it turns out, I think she was just bored and ring sour, because she was full of all kinds of cheer and enthusiasm (and soundness) when we hit the trail. So that’s good to know, and that means I’ll be incorporating taking her out some more as well now.

Virtual Tevis: Week 2 and into Week 3

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We’re currently sitting at a little over 7 miles along the Virtual Tevis trail, which means we’ve crossed under Highway 89 and are making our way into the Squaw Valley ski resort and up to High Camp. I loved the section from the start to the highway on the ride, and I really enjoyed seeing it is full daylight last year when I took my rider’s mare out for a pre-ride on Friday.

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Just a little taste of what the area between the start and Hwy 89 looks like.

And for fun, a video of what the area of the highway crossing looks like. This is looking south, from the north edge of the bridge over the trail crossing. Riders come down the trail on the east side (at some points you can see them snaking their way down some switchbacks in the background), cross under the highway via a trail underpass, ride up alongside the bridge, make a sharp turn to ride northbound alongside the highway (there’s a concrete barricade between the trail and the highway), and then another turn off the road onto the trail. This is from 2018, the year I rode, and Roo and I show up at about the 1:30 point in the video — little grey Arabian in yellow tack, and I’ve got a grey shirt, black tights, and white helmet.

I tried to embed this, but the Facebook embedding code doesn’t want to play nice with my blog, so here’s the direct link for the public Tevis Cup Facebook page and subsequent video:

https://www.facebook.com/TevisCup/videos/1975576312466525/ 

And a second video, this one from 2016, from the perspective at the south end of the bridge, watching riders come up from the underpass.

I’ve hung out and taken photos/videos at the Hwy 89 crossing twice before, and it’s a ton of fun. Timing is such that if you’re part of crew that needs to be at Robinson Flat, you can’t be at 89 and still make it to RF in time to catch the front-runners, but it’s a great place to hang out and get to see the entire field of entrants come through in a relatively short period of time. Everyone is still clustered together as this point, so it usually takes less than an hour to see everyone go by.

It’s currently 113* here in Phoenix, and I’m really missing my annual Tevis getaway now. Not only for the Tevis environment and social aspect and catching up with my tribe of like-minded Tevis obsessees, but also for the fact that for at least a day or two, it means a respite in weather and the higher-elevation cooler temperatures. (In fact, yours truly briefly appears in the second video as well, about 2 minutes in. The wild tangle of blondish curls and the multi-colored puffy jacket? Yep, that’s me and my very distinctive jacket.)

But even more than the weather, the socialization…I find myself craving the energy and unique sensation that only Tevis has. There’s a vibe there, the kind that gets under your skins, the kind that fuels hopes and dreams. It might be a long shot, or it might not. At this point, I have no clue, so I can’t help but dream big and find my motivation from the possibilities.

With Liberty, I’m finding that baby steps now are going to lead to incremental leaps in the future. This mare is so smart, and has such a huge try, that I feel like taking the time now to really lay this foundation and establish trust between each other will really pay off in the long run. Because she is also stubborn, dominant, and opinionated…but that’s okay, because I know how to work with that.

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War Mare Personified

Funny realization I had…she and Flash remind me so much of each other. They both equine personality test as “rock stars,” and she would be the “queen” counterpart to his regal, slightly imperious “king” aspects. Initially I didn’t make the connection of similarities — it had been a couple of years since I had been around her when I started riding Flash, but having ridden him and spent time with him off and on over the past couple of years, the similarities really struck me this time around as I’ve been working with Liberty. And that knowledge has been super instrumental in leading to success with her, because it’s taught me to respect their opinions, and to stay very level and matter of fact, and not take their opinions and small acts of defiance or attitude personally or overreact to them, but still stay firm, and redirect or correct as necessary, but done in a way that isn’t emotionally charged or defensive. I know Flash made me a better horsewoman, and in turn, I find myself now transferring those same skills into Liberty. It’s calm, confident leadership that supports but extends trust to the horse.

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Today’s nemesis was something in that corner by the evil trailers.

Today was a day that demanded some tact and patience. Liberty’s biggest issue is she can be balky. If there’s something she doesn’t like, she will stop, plant her hooves, and refuse to move. She’s gotten away with it, too, because she learned that rather than fight her, her rider preferred to just dismount and lead her if they were solo, or rely on a tow from the other horse if they were riding with people. I myself employed the “buddy tow” system when I’ve ridden her in the past, especially at rides, or found myself relying a little too much on the ability to smack her with a crop. And I just don’t want to have to rely on that in the long run. So I was rather pleased to have her balky side pop its head up sooner, rather than later, and give me the opportunity to work through it today.

Shagyas are known for having a stubborn streak, which can make them interesting characters to work with, especially when that’s on top of an already opinionated horse. But by my own genetic background, I’m half-Slavic, which means I’m just as stubborn as my mare, and I was determined that I would out-patience her.

Ultimately, we stood in that arena corner for almost 10 minutes, eking out one step at a time. I had a couple of simple guidelines: she couldn’t back up, and she couldn’t bolt or rush through. And by the end of that time, she had made her way up to the scary corner, given several good Arab snorts, and then finally, I felt her give a big breath and relax her whole back and body. From there, we proceeded to do another 10 minutes of solid walk work until I really felt her settle, and then from there, we were able to do almost 10 minutes of solid trot work. I also started asking her for a little “more” in her trot, not just the soft little dib-dib trot, and it turns out she’s got a very nice 8mph trot in there. Not only is this building her fitness, it’s building my comfort levels, as well as readjusting my own internal odometer to “normal horse pace” versus years of “pony pace.”

I was thrilled with how the session went today. Was she perfect? Nope. I don’t know her well enough to know if we’re still working the kinks out (very likely), she’s still getting into the habit of regular work (also likely), or something is not comfortable — still haven’t found a bit she likes, and I don’t know if she likes the Total Saddle Fit girth versus the mohair. Thing to keep experimenting with. But we worked through some hiccups, and I’m super-proud of how both of us handled it. I kept my patience and my cool, and most importantly, my confidence. And she worked through a major balky moment without becoming scared, or resentful.

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Definitely still talking to each other at the end.

When we finished, as I was untacking her back in the barn, that mare’s face was fascinating. I could see the wheels turning in her eyes as she was processing everything, and she stood for a solid five minutes licking and chewing and yawning. Some major releasing and processing happening.

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Post-shower, enjoying making a mess of her sloppy mash. She’s definitely getting more svelte, and I’m seeing some more muscle development. She’s also reverting to more of her true seal bay color that she’s usually been. Previously, I’ve never seen her as dark, almost black, as she was when I brought her home. Which was fine, she’s beautiful either way, but I do lean more towards the seal bay shading as my preference, just because it’s a little more contrast on her beautiful face. Guessing some of this is sweat/salt/sunfade…but she was in 24/7 unsheltered turnout up in Kingman, and they get plenty toasty up there, too.

On the pony front…

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She received the talk about using your powers for good or evil at some point in her life. I now know which side she chose…

Fine, Mimi, I get it. No more fly sheets this year. Obviously making her exuberance over not having to wear clothes anymore known…

Destructive tendencies aside, Mimi is loving retirement life. As long as she gets first cookies, a cool shower when it’s hot, her itchy spots scratched, and the food supplied, she’s a happy camper, and seems to be rather content that I have something else to occupy my riding time and attention.

 

27

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Happy 27th birthday to my equine heart and soul. A friend commented earlier today on Facebook, describing her as “the littlest horse with the biggest heart” and I can’t think of a more apt description. She’s set a high bar for unicorn ponies, and as far as I’m concerned, there will never be another one like her.

 

Destructo-Pony strikes again. She probably would have preferred cake for her birthday, rather than a new fly sheet. Then again, it *is* something else to try to destroy…

(27 years old, and still finding new and creative ways to wreck, well…everything. No fly mask, sheet, blanket, hay bag, tail bag, or anything on or around her body is safe from her destructive powers.)

Disgusted

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Mare Faces need no words to still make their point

The first triple-digit temperatures are looming this upcoming weekend, the mosquitoes are using me as an all-you-can-eat buffet line, and the flies are out. Which means it’s time to bust out the new annual fly sheet, aka “embarrass the pony” time.

Her face really says it all. Never mind that she doesn’t hate it enough to try to actively remove it, and that last year, the wide bellyband kept her midline from getting its usual seasonal bug attack and subsequent itch-mania, and also kept her from having to get bathed in a gallon of fly spray every day. But she remains totally unimpressed with my silly antics.

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It’s not quite as flappy and ridiculous as last year’s edition.

I liked the one I got last year (even though it only survived the one season, and quite frankly, “survived” is a loose term…that thing was toast and went straight to the garbage bin after cooler weather hit, since I’m pretty sure there were more holes than actual fabric involved by the end) but admittedly it wasn’t the most durable thing, and the sizing was also awkward, hanging down past her knees.

Sizing Mimi for blankets has always been tricky. When she was younger, 70″ blanket, no problem. And then we found distance riding and she widened out to approximately that of a 55-gallon drum, and all of a sudden, her butt end was sticking out of the back of her blankets. But 72″ is a bit too big. As above, there’s some extra there (72″), but historically, every time I’ve tried to go back down to a 69″/70″ (Euro or stock cut, depending on the blanket), it’s been too small. <sigh> This pony. Never easy, even at almost-27.

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unicorn print for the unicorn pony

Anyway, I had won a Riding Warehouse gift card at the AERC Convention, so this ended up being a good use for that. It’s one of the Saxon models, and it was half the price of the one I got last year, so if when she trashes it, it will be slightly less tragic. For all the different choices in fly sheets they offer, I had a couple of specific things I was looking for that narrowed down the selection: it has to have a wide bellyband (for the aforementioned midline itch), and ideally would like a neck cover, because it helps keep her from rubbing out her mane when she sticks her head through the stall panels to grab every last scrap of hay.

So we’ll see how long this one lasts…and how disgusted she remains with me for imposing yet another sartorial indignity upon her.