My Favorite Things: Rides

My Favorite Things: A series of my favorite things of different categories, less formal than a review and more conversational musings. Everything from rides, to tack, to food, to apparel, all following a “Top Three” format. Also, because I’m me, and I’m known for changing my perspective and opinion of such things as favorites from year to year, some of these topics may end up revisited…more than once.

It was hard for me to narrow down my favorite rides, especially limiting myself to the Top Three. I can pretty easily narrow down two…but that third one I just may have to leave as a “rotating space” for now.

Virginia City 100 (Sept 2017)
It’s probably my favorite ride to date, even with not finishing. Yes, that’s how good everything else was to basically negate the Overtime pull. It’ll always be special because it was my first 100-miler attempt. It was a leap of faith, with an uncertain outcome, and I’m still proud of myself for attempting it and taking that chance, even if all the stars didn’t align for a finish.

(FWIW, 100-mile hallucinations are real. I saw land bridges and Easter Island heads.)

VC just has the best atmosphere. Given that it was the 50th anniversary ride when I rode it, it was larger that usual, with over 70 entries…but normal years has entries usually between 40-50 people, which makes for a very laid-back, more intimate type of ride. I love that it’s a 100 only, so everyone in camp to ride is there to do that ride and that distance. Kind of hard to describe, but it gives it a different feeling than other rides.

Yeah, the rocks suck. Coming from Arizona, I’m fairly used to rocks, and many claims of areas being rocky elicit merely an eyebrow raise from me. This one earned the double eyebrows and a few colorful words at opportune moments. That said, I also has the fortune (?) to ride it during “one of the worst footing years to date” thanks to some epic rain/snow earlier in the year that decided to rearrange most of the trail footing and rocks.

But the scenery is gorgeous, and I love how different the Nevada high desert is from my own. The multiple, but not excessive, loop format (50, 26, 24) isn’t as intimidating (or hard to coordinate) as a point-to-point trail, but the loops aren’t so short/frequent that you feel like you’re just doing a merry-go-round of repeat loops around camp. There’s also very little shared trail (and you’re usually in the dark most of the times you’re on it, so does that even count?), and the sections that are shared are the ones you’re happy with because they’re of the “back to camp” variety that makes for happy horses who know where they’re going.

Plus, they feed you well (steak for breakfast, cookies at one of the water stops), and you can get finisher’s buckles. I really want one of those pretty buckles, darn it. One of these years…

Strawberry Fields Forever (June 2018)
Well, Flash, for starters. Hard not to enjoy any ride I’ve done on him. The Strawberry ride had been on my “must do” ride bucket list since I started endurance, so I was super excited to finally get to experience it. The scenery is out of this world amazing. Think “Sound of music” minus the singing nuns. Grass, aspens, an amazing array of micro-climates and vegetation. It’s so different from everything I know that I felt like I was living in a small slice of high elevation, green tree paradise for a few days.

It was also a really good ride experience for me. Flash put me and my horsemanship to the test, since he was feeling very strong and forward on day one. He has his Opinions and doesn’t like to be micro-managed, so he appreciates a certain level of tact and picking one’s battles. I must have done right by him, in his mind at least, since he rewarded me with being sensible and mindful in the technical, tricky stuff.

It was also interesting to experience a pull on day one for thumps, but to be able to work through it, solve the problem, and be cleared to go out again on day two…and then finish that day with a super-strong horse (who probably would have been happy to go day three).

The day two scenery was also gorgeous, and Flash was even more settled, so we had a really enjoyable ride right from the start. He’s also a fun horse to travel with on the road. I also enjoy my road trips, so the scenic, two-day drive up there also doesn’t hurt my feelings. The weekend also involved some of my amazing endurance mentors and friends, and just a ton of fun overall.

The Third Ride
I’m having a tough time narrowing this one down. I look back at my rides and think, “Oh, that one was really fun,” or “That was a major accomplishment,” but I’m not sure one stands out above the rest. Currently in the running are:
Lead-Follow @ Bumble Bee 50 (2018)
Tahoe Rim Ride 50 (2016)
Man Against Horse 50 (2009)
Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75 (2017)

Bumble Bee was excellent because 1) Flash and 2) broke the seeming curse I had in regards to finishing, or even riding, this ride. Had some phenomenal “connected” moments with Flash, and I will never forget how he danced his way up the Black Canyon Trail, with nothing more than a whispered “go get ’em” encouragement to let him know there were horses ahead of us. It was also my first real top ten in a 50, and first time to stand for Best Condition. The only real negative of this ride was figuring out my shoes I was riding in were pretty well shot for padding, and I spent the last 10 miles or so of the ride wanting to cut my feet off at the ankles. But Flash gets a gold star for putting with with several miles of my probably-crappy riding. And the shoes got permanently retired.

Tahoe Rim was a beautiful ride, probably the prettiest I’ve done. It’s also a very challenging ride, so definitely a feather in the cap to finish with a sound, happy horse. It also followed a string of very disappointing pulls at rides, and a badly-needed confidence booster. Roo did really well for me and gave me an excellent ride overall, even if he was being a spooky snot when it came to leading, and we almost parted ways a couple times.

Man Against Horse…probably one of my proudest accomplishments with Mimi. She proved what a tough, game, big-hearted war mare she is when she finished that particular 50. Funny thing is, there were definitely things that didn’t make it an entirely wonderful ride, such as the vet thinking he “might” have seen something in her trot-out at the top of the mountain, and having to re-trot her a couple times. Heart in throat for sure. And my stirrup leathers decide to declare war on my shins, so by the time we were down to the last third of the ride, my shins felt like I had hit knives stabbing into them. But it was one of those “worth any crap along the way” rides in order to get that finisher’s buckle.

McDowell 75 last year was pretty awesome. Not only to be entrusted with a friend’s special horse, but to have it be both his and my first 75, and to finish…and finish well. I fully anticipated needing to take the full time, so to finish mid-pack, with several hours of buffer, was a very pleasant surprise. It was a day that went really smoothly, and I was really pleased with how horse management and pacing went. It was definitely a ride that helped build my own confidence in the “yes, I am a competent endurance rider” department.

So between those four rides, I have a really hard time narrowing it down. I guess I just have to wait for another outstanding ride to come along that tops those four to round out my ultimate Top Three…at least for now.

Happy Gotcha Day, Mimi

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“To many, the words love, hope, and dreams are synonymous with horses.”

On this day in 1996, a small grey mare officially came into my life, fulfilling one dream, and starting us down the path of so many more.

We’ve shared 22 years of dreams, frustrations, hope, heartbreak, teaching, and learning. (We know who’s the teacher and who’s the student. The teacher isn’t the one making a blog post, since she lacks the fingers necessary to type on a keyboard.)

And above all, love. Patience, compassion, understanding, wisdom. A soft mane to cry on, even if you really don’t like being cuddled. A tolerance for my fussing and the fact I sometimes see you as my own personal living, breathing “My Little Pony.” And it’s sometimes involved glitter.

Happy Gotcha Day, Mimi!!

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A collection of all of the random tidbits (most of which end up on Facebook or Instagram)…none that really justify a full post of their own, but collectively, enough for me to justify sitting down and uploading media and chattering on for a bit.

I hit a new level of neon visibility with my tights. These particular pairs are from Ride Boldly, and I love them. They’re completely custom made to size, and they fit me the best of probably any of the tights I own. Plus, they’ve got two large cargo pockets, one on each side, that easily holds a phone. Tested one pair out at the Grand Canyon ride, and they passed with flying neon colors.

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Playing around in the arena. I think I was messing with my camera’s timer feature…I have very little media of me riding, aside from ride photos, and need to figure out a way to get some more. I’m drooling over the idea of the SoloShot3 automatic tracking camera, but the budget decrees that the price point on that level of spiffiness is going to have to come down significantly. Maybe a basic tripod/remote/phone set-up would be in order.

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Cranky pony a couple weeks ago. She was in a mood and half, and we spent a solid half hour schooling manners when she got all kinds of rushy and gate sour. We were both hot, tired, and filthy by the time we were done. She never lets me get too complacent or bored, that’s for sure.

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Happiness is: tack ho’ing. New stirrup leathers (that smell so good…I adore the smell of quality leather goods) for the dressage saddle (to replace the non-matching brown ones above, and so I can stop playing round robin among my saddles with not having enough stirrup leathers to go around) and a new bit for the pony. (Myler loose ring MB33WL, which is a lower, wider port version of the MB33 mouthpiece that’s worked very well for her.)

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First time in the new bit today, and she loved it. For a pony who thinks the purpose of bits is to deliberately lean on them, she was amazingly light and soft in it. No clue how she’ll do in it on trail…but that’s what her s-hack is for anyway.

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Obstacle course play day at the barn today. Fun chance to play around with all of her bells-n-whistles buttons that I spent years installing. Just a few minutes of tuning her up and she was phenomenally responsive and eager. Although she still thinks the point of caveletti is to deliberately hit them.

(I was super proud of her stepping up on the box, too. She doesn’t particularly like it, and it often involves scrambling and flailing on her part. But today she was happy enough to step up, stop, and stand quietly.)

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Super-happy pony by the time we were done today. She looks so ridiculously cute in her tack get-up, too. So perfectly coordinated and matchy-matchy. Once an endurance pony, always an endurance pony…

And I like seeing that kind of happy expression on her face. I know she’s getting old, and aging…her quality of movement definitely isn’t the same, and I know she’s got some arthritis happening. (No surprise, she is 25, and has lived an active life.) But as long as she’s serviceably sound, happy, and wants to keep working, that’s what we’ll do.

25 Mimi Moments

In honor on Mimi’s 25th birthday this past weekend, I’d like to present, in no particular order:

“25 Mimi Moments: The good, bad, and random (because there’s no ugly about her)”

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Still one of the best days of my life: When this little grey mare came into it. I still get butterflies and chills thinking about it. The annual POA sale is run as an auction format, and my parents and I went back to Iowa with a list of ponies in the sale catalog to look at. Mimi was all of our first choice…and she’s been my #1 ever since.

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Little known fact: My father actually picked Mimi out. She grabbed his attention right from the get-go on our first time even skimming through the sale catalog, and she was the first horse we even crossed paths with at the sale when he saw her out in a warm-up ring being ridden by her owner. He’s got a major soft spot for that little pony, and she’s quite fond of him.

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We have a complicated relationship with jumping. When she was “on” she was a blast to jump, but she was the most dishonest jumper I’ve ever ridden. Because she’s so quick and squirrely, she could bury herself into the base of the jump, and then spin off literally at takeoff. There were multiple occasions that I went over the jump…and she didn’t. Some of it I now know was likely due to saddle fit, and too narrow of a saddle that pinched her shoulders. 

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Her most iconic gymkhana pose. She was an absolute blast to run through games. I really took my time with her, trotting and slow loping the patterns for a couple of years for her to learn them — skill before speed. So by the time I introduced the speed element, she had the precision down, and was an expert at flying around the last pole or barrel and absolutely launching. I’m holding on because otherwise, I very likely would have gone off the back of the saddle.

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She’s really loud. For a small pony, she has an incredible set of lungs, and an eardrum-piercing shriek that she makes full use of, especially in a public environment. Everyone knows when she shows up somewhere.

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She doesn’t find my shenanigans very funny. For years, I’ve tormented her as my personal “My Little Pony” with things like festive hats and costume classes, and her predictable reaction almost every time is, “idiot human.”

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She doesn’t actively like very many horses. She’s very independent out in the herd, and typically hangs out by herself. There are maybe a handful of horses over the years she has truly liked, although she’s a shameless, indiscriminate flirt during certain times of the year. Most of the time she’s either tolerant or indifferent, and then other couple of handfuls of horses she actively dislikes.

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Wiggle lips! She’s super-expressive with her lips, especially when she has itchy spots. Scratch her along her belly-line and it’ll send her into lip-wriggling ecstasy.

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Finishing the Man Against Horse 50 was one of my proudest accomplishments with her. It’s a really tough ride, and she never put a hoof wrong the whole time.

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We went all the way to Oklahoma for the biggest show of our career…and I forgot a class pattern for the first (and only) time, and she dumped me in the warm-up ring.

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My greatest accomplishment in her show career was earning her Supreme Championship. For a POA to get “supreme’d” as it is known, they have to earn a certain number of points in three different divisions: Halter, Non-Timed (performance), and Timed (gymkhana). And a certain percentage of those points had to come from what would be the equivalent of “rated” shows. She came to me with about half of the required Halter points, but she and I got all of the necessary performance class points together.

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Out of everything we’ve done together, endurance riding has been the favorite. She’s the absolutely happiest when she’s going down the trail in the lead, and allowed to comfortably move out. We did a couple of rides by ourselves, but her favorite was with one other horse, preferably behind her. She likes a trail buddy, but she wants to be in the lead.

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On our very last NATRC ride, she was well-behaved enough to earn me a perfect 100 horsemanship score. 

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She’s really well-trained, and incredibly soft in the arena. I can ride her in anything, including bridleless. But out on trail, she thinks snaffles are the best joke ever and gleefully runs through them. Either her s-hackamore, or something with leverage (kimberwick) reminds her she does have brakes installed.

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We didn’t do a ton of endurance rides together — 7 50s, and half a dozen 25s. She was a blast to ride in LDs, and we finished all of them, including a couple of Top Tens. We’re 4/7 on the 50s, but all of our rides together have been memorable. I always worried if 50s were too much for her, but only one pull was for her (a tie-up halfway through). Looking back, I probably didn’t give her enough credit, but I’ve always been overprotective of her, and so afraid of hurting her.

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She’s a desert rat, through and through. Every time we’ve gone up to the mountains, she’s definitely on way higher alert. Stumps and logs are suspicious, and deer and elk are equinivorous.

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As much as I trust her…she can also unnerve me faster than almost any horse out there. To this day, I still don’t enjoy riding her out around the barn neighborhood. She’s still very quick and can be very reactive in that particular setting, and I still have a hard time relaxing and enjoying this kind of riding with her. Give us the actual trails any day.

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She is the best camper. Years of showing gave her experience with standing around and waiting, and standing tied at the trailer. Her worst indiscretion is beating her haybag against the trailer.

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She’s naturally a very alert and attentive horse who notices everything. It was a really big switch going from pretty placid lesson horses to the spicy firecracker that she was — and still is. For years, I assumed that if she “looked” at something, she was going to spook at it, so I tended to be the “death grip, super controlling” rider. She’s a saint for putting up with me. Eventually I learned that just because she looked didn’t mean she was going to spook, so gradually did get more relaxed. Of course, she still had to keep me on my toes — I ate dirt more than once over being too relaxed and complacent, and she would pull a fast spin and teleport maneuver. 

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She’s really smart about drinking when she’s thirsty. Several times at rides, she deliberately stopped and moved off-trail to a hidden water tank — once, quite memorably, in the middle of a canter up a big wash with several other horses.

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She used to be absolutely terrified of cows. Then she learned they run away if you chase them. Cow aversion be gone. Now I have to keep her from trying to chase them down.

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She is sooo picky about her bits, and not shy about telling me her opinion. I’ve narrowed it down to 3 bits that she actually likes. All Myler, of course. Preferably the handmade ones with the sweet-iron mouthpiece. She’s the reason I got into collecting bits.

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Her feet are a constant source of aggravation (and learning experience) for me. They’ve never been great, although they’re now light years better than when I first took her barefoot. But I still have to really stay on top of things, and “self-trimming” is not a concept that exists in Pony World.

 

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She is the most interested, multi-faceted, layered equine I’ve ever been around. She can be a bit mercurial (sometimes sweet and cuddly, sometimes bitchy mare), but she has taught me so much about patience, thinking, listening, partnership, forgiveness, humility, confidence…most of my life lessons have been connected to her. She’s my best friend.

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Happy birthday, Mimi!

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This might be one of my new favorite pictures. I successfully captured the “essence” of Mimi. It’s currently being used as my lock screen background on my phone, so I see this perky face every time I pick up my phone.

I can’t believe my baby pony girl is a quarter of a century old. We have literally grown up together — she was 3, I was 11 — and she still delights me as much now as she did 20 years ago.

I love that she still has all of her pony sass and shenanigans, her opinions, her work ethic, and her heart.

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Playing with some barrels and pattern work.

I’ve been battling some slight lameness with her for the past several months — nothing obvious or particularly major, but subtle and consistent. I chalked it up to her age, and the likelihood of something like arthritis or ringbone. As it turned out, I’d just let her feet get away from me, and she just needed a good toe shortening and correction of some rather overlaid bar. (She’s a good example of where the “benign neglect and self-trimming” approach really doesn’t work. To this day, I still have to stay really aggressive and on top of her feet and trimming.) Once that was addressed, she’s been back to feeling 100%, and the last couple of weekends, I’ve gotten some amazing work from her.

In an effort to keep things interesting, I’ve been dabbling in learning more about Working Equitation after spectating part of a demo at an expo a few weeks ago. It looks intriguing, and it’s something I can see myself pursuing on the side, and as a way to cross-train my endurance ponies. Mimi and I already have all of the training down — much of it is very similar to what we did for years in the show ring, between trail courses, reining, western riding, and gymkhana.

So the past couple of weekends, I’ve been putting together mini-obstacles and giving them a try. Mimi is loving it. It’s something new, and it’s just different enough from what we’ve done in the past that she’s very attentive, and trying very hard to “figure it out.” Also helps that it’s done at a lot more speed than the slow, exacting trail course type of work, so needless to say, she’s totally on board with that.

So all of that to say that she doesn’t feel or act her age, and in her world, 25 is nowhere near full retirement age. So we keep going, as long as she’s willing and happy.

She got birthday presents. 

She also got “cake.” (homemade carrot oatmeal breakfast bars)