Gardens and Seahorses

With two days left to go in the month, I was thisclose to breaking my “at least one post a month” streak that I’ve had going since August 2011. It was tempting. My blog content is decidedly ‘endurance lite’ right now, at least as far as the actual riding part. I’m still managing to stay involved with endurance, via the AZ Endurance Riders Club activities (and running the website and social media), and I’ll be volunteering at the Wickenburg ride this weekend.

86970887_10112017101743671_3179283845044240384_n

Getting more and more official all the time: We have club shirts now.

But there’s an aspect there that is a bit of a dual-edged sword. It’s great to have ways to stay involved and active…but it also stings to be involved, but not on the riding front. I keep reminding myself that this is nothing new for me — I don’t think “consistency” can be applied in any way, shape, form, or definition to describing my endurance “career,” such as it is, over the years.

So right now, I’m just not thinking about endurance a ton.

Earlier in the month, I went up to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. It’s been an almost-annual tradition ever since I was little, and it made an early impression on me in terms of the beauty and spirit of Arabians. It also left a lingering dream and desire to some day show at Scottsdale. Never mind I don’t have an Arabian. But being up there this year really re-ignited that particular dream, and I realized I actually miss showing. I miss the fuss and the bother, the ritual and routine. I don’t miss my tall English field boots, though.

But my dime store psychology, combined with some peanut butter whiskey, netted me the epiphany that I think what I really miss is being that good at something, that successful. Mimi and I put in the work, and there’s boxes of trophies and ribbons stacked up in my closet to prove it.

Right now, endurance just has me feeling a bit defeated.

86468805_10112020682602601_3821507762194481152_n

Watching the Western Dressage classes. This handsome guy is VA Ralvon Crusader. I’ve followed him with some interest on Facebook for a while now, and it was delightful to meet him in person. He is sweet, kind, and has knock-your-socks-off good conformation. Wouldn’t mind owning one of his offspring.

So I spent a couple days at the Arab Show, admiring the sleek and shiny show ponies…and then I got to go groom my yak.

thumbnail_IMG_1394

Seriously. The shedding. It’s epic.

No worries about this one retaining her coat or anything like that…she might have grown an impressive coat this year, but she’s dumping it by the handful and can’t get rid of it fast enough. (My pony is a better forecaster than some old groundhog…I believe her and her shedding patterns as to if we have an early spring or not.)

Last weekend, Saturday featured some major rain.

thumbnail_IMG_1375

Spoiler Alert: It was not delicate.

Despite what my snarky weather app tried to convince me of, it was neither “light” nor “delicate.” Instead, the end result was enough water to leave the arena at the barn almost entirely under standing water.

87776290_10112053277122921_3813262601807200256_n

“I am NOT a seahorse.”

Mimi was not amused by my “water aerobics” exercise session. Princess is not a seahorse, and Princess does not like getting wet or splashed, so doing trot sets through several inches of water was not her idea of fun.

She was also feeling good enough to crowhop under saddle, which she hasn’t done since she was about…I don’t know, maybe 10? Glad that at almost-27, she’s still feeling that sassy. Took me totally by surprise, and all I could do was laugh. By the time I gathered my wits about me enough to realize, “uh, my pony is crowhopping, I should probably address that…” she had desisted her shenanigans on her own, but it still shocked me. It’s no wonder that some of the Arabs I’ve ridden don’t really faze me…at some point, there’s probably been some Pony-equivalent behavior I’ve already survived.

I also spring-cleaned down at the barn, organizing both my tack trunk and my storage cabinet. Everything got sorted, old stuff got tossed, cobwebs got swept out, several black widows got relocated to another plane of existence, shelves got fixed, and I have some semblance of organization happening again.

I’m also very proud of my leg-wrap storage system, set up to allow wraps to hang to dry, as well as have their own storage space that doesn’t involve them being tossed unceremoniously on top of my grooming tote.

I also did a bit of retail therapy. Because what else do you do when you’re beyond frustrated with endurance but buy more endurance gear? (I already know I’m impossible, you don’t have to tell me.)

I have a fondness for laced English reins, due to years of showing huntseat…but leather + endurance don’t mix. Plus, I like cleaning leather saddles…I hate cleaning leather bridles & reins. My plastic tack has me spoiled. But a query to Hought Tack, on whether they could do their beta English reins that were laced with ‘roo leather as endurance reins (snaps on the ends, no center buckle) netted me this gorgeous pair. They look cool, and they feel really good, too. And the ‘roo leather is super durable and holds up to all the sweat and dirt. Yay, best of both worlds.

I’ve also been on a non-stop quest to find the perfect saddle packs, and I just may have found them. Longer review to follow, but after two short rides, I am in love with these True Grit saddle packs. The maker of them doesn’t have a website yet, but I can put you in touch with her if you’re curious. They truly don’t bounce, and attach and sit on the saddle in such a way they sit above the horse’s shoulder.

And finally, I’ve been throwing some of my focus on the backyard at home. 20-something years ago, my parents transformed our suburban postage stamp backyard into a tropical paradise, complete with fishpond for exotic goldfish, and dozens of varieties of different plants. This was before horses totally and completely ruled my life, so most weekends were spent going around to various and sundry plant nurseries around the Valley. I loved getting involved with the fish pond part of things, especially picking out the fish, but my pre-teen self only had so much (very marginal) interest in the gardening part of things. I appreciate how it looked, but tending plants was not my cup of tea, aside from giving benign neglect to the little pot of succulents I decided to grow. (Incidentally, two of which are still alive, and one of which has propagated like crazy and I’m running out of room to stick all of its offspring.)

Well, fast-forward a couple decades later, and I think I’m starting to uncover my latent green thumb. Or at least attempting to. Over the last few years, I’ve started taking more of an interest in some of the garden stuff, like growing our own nasturtiums (and harvesting the seeds, saving them, and planting them the following year), and last year, really got more into it again with another pot of succulents, and helping tend to the veggies Mom planted.

And this year, I’m having a hard time staying out of the yard. I’ve gone a bit succulent crazy, two mail orders of little succulents on their way to me as I type this, in addition to the few new ones I’ve already added.

Playing in the yard is a really good mental distraction, it gives me something to do, and it makes me feel productive. There’s also a combination of instant and delayed gratification at work. Instant gratification that comes from cleaning up a spot that needed work, or the satisfaction of tearing down and pruning things. Delayed gratification in seeing plants grow, and thrive, and the enjoyment of being able to harvest some fresh veggies and fruit.

Keeping my fingers crossed, but it looks like that gardening gene I was skeptical about inheriting actually may not have skipped a generation.

New Years at Picketpost

IMG_0743

“Start as you mean to continue.”

I generally try to avoid being too superstitious…but that is one I try to adhere to every year — the idea that what you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll do the rest of the year.

So I took my pony on a ride.

And hopefully that translates into “get to go do plenty of endurance rides” for the rest of year. But in the meantime, I enjoyed a beautiful, Arizona winter day, on my spitfire of a pony who was two handfuls’ worth of sass and spirit, acting not at all like her turning-27-years-old-this-year age.

IMG_0730

Still the Most Adorable Endurance Pony (retired), all geared up and sporting our Christmas present — a D-Lua Park saddle pad

IMG_0732

“Come on, let’s gooooo!!!!!” The Patented Pony Side-Eye.

We’ve ridden Arnett Canyon before (shortly after Ney Year’s last year, in fact), and it’s a really fun trail. Some technical stuff, both manmade waterbars/steps in and out of the water crossings, and natural rock ledges and outcroppings to be navigated…and depending on the time of year, lots of water crossings. I lost track of how many water crossings we ended up doing, including a couple that were deep enough to be past Mimi’s knees, and my feet and lower legs got splashed a number of times.

IMG_0740

Such an interesting microclimate back in the canyon. Saguaros and ocotillo collide with cottonwoods, sycamores, and water.

It was a good, 8-mile stretch, and Mimi was still being a fire-breathing dragon at the end. She is still so strong, I forget how much of a workout it is when she’s that on and in bulldozer mode, when I have to really work to not let her plow through on her forehand through all of the technical, tricky bits. I’m pretty sure the catch-ride Arabs are actually an easier ride than her. Love her, though, and she’s certainly made me a better rider and has made me work for it along the way.

IMG_0752

The 2020 offering of my current blog header. I try to capture this particular pic/angle whenever I’m out there, because it looks so different depending on the season and time of day.

2019 Year-in-Review

Well, 2019 has been kind of a weird year. I didn’t end up doing much by way of endurance rides, although I was still really involved peripherally in the sport. I got Mimi out more this year than I have in the last several years, and we were both all the happier for it. It also seemed like there was an unusual number of horse injuries, people injuries, and/or horse losses among my circle of friends and the periphery. Most of them aren’t my stories to tell…but some very good horses unexpectedly crossed the Rainbow Bridge this year, and my heart still hurts for those friends.

Much of 2019 was more ride-lite for me, although I did manage to get in a couple rides by the end of the year, and involved a few “plans gone awry.” I’ve probably learned more about flexibility, going with the flow, not getting my hopes set too high on something happening, having back-up plans…and then ultimately rolling my eyes, laughing, and doing something else entirely. Such is the nature of horses in general, and even moreso when you’re catch riding and relying on not only your life falling into place, but the lives of other people and other horses.

80260815_10219510431703315_5440523408435576832_n

This, more than anything, sums up the greatest part of this year. I have some truly amazing friends in my endurance tribe that have become like family to me.

There was quite a bit that didn’t end up getting blogged about this year, for no other reason than “I got lazy and put it on social media but couldn’t be bothered to sit down and write out a whole post about it.” I’ve gotten a little lax with my writing and motivation to blog, although I still managed to continue my “at least one post per month” streak. We’re still a few days out from annual inebriated declarations of good intent (aka “New Years Resolutions”)…which I don’t do anyway…so I won’t make any promises as to that changing in 2020. The “one post a month” bar has been a relatively easy standard for me to maintain without putting too much pressure on myself for something that is supposed to be fun. In the meantime, there’s always social media. My Facebook is ‘friends only’ and run on a slightly more personal level, but my Instagram is public (it’s also over on the sidebar of this blog).

It also seemed like this year went by really fast. Each month, I felt like I was saying, “How is it such-and-such-month already?” And now, at the end of year, I find myself sitting and saying, “How am I looking at 2020 already? Especially when the 90’s was only like 10 years ago?” (One of these years, my brain will eventually stop living a decade+ behind…)

January

I was able to get Mimi out on trail several times, including a ride out at Picket Post. She was really happy to get out on a semi-regular basis again (which we continued to do through the spring), and to that end, I busted out the clippers for the first time in almost a decade and relieved her of some of her excess fluff.

84233356-2019-Tonto+Twist+50-0619

AZ Cowgirl Photography, Susan Kordish photo

I volunteered at the Tonto Twist ride, working one of the away checkpoints/water stops. That was a fun day, with a great turnout and a really well-run ride that is rapidly becoming one of my favorite rides, either to ride or volunteer. Also nice that it’s in my backyard, being only half an hour away from both home and the barn.

February

53266982_10110564347265291_3688741767500267520_n

We got quite a bit of rain this month, and the arena started looking like beachfront property, so we did quite a few excursions around the neighborhood on the dry streets (and some inadvertent off-roading through the mud a couple times).

I also hung out with friends at the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show…and completely failed to get any pics…this is why I blog for fun and low expectations.

51863754_10110503193068791_656228229249499136_n

My biggest accomplishment was completing the 5-Day Advanced Course towards my  Masterson Method equine bodywork certification. It was a ton of fun and a major positive learning experience. Pretty much everything I’ve done with horses has not come naturally or easily, and I’ve felt like I’ve really had to work at it, second-guessing myself along the way the entire time. So of course I brought that mindset and those inherent self-doubts along with me, and to have my instructor finish the course and my evaluation by saying I had a natural gift and feel for the methodology was an enormous confidence boost.

March

I had a few days of downtime after the Masterson clinic, and then scooted up to Reno for the AERC Convention. That was a really fun weekend spent with good friends, the annual sushi binge, shopping, and one of the few times of the year I wear a dress and high heels (national awards dinner…because every so often it’s fun to wear something other than riding tights or jeans).

53415005_10110612162767641_2121694388022149120_n

Thanks to the rain earlier, we had a delightful flower season, both in the backyard and on the trails.

April

I got approved to start the fieldwork potion of the Masterson Method certification, and jumped into that.

56290934_10205813196366133_3034164841506930688_n

Working on Lilly, a Mustang mare. She was fascinating in terms of learning her very subtle releases and body language.

I was glad for having that to keep me fairly occupied, because so far, spring had been very light on the endurance front, and any plans made didn’t seem to ever end up coming together. It was a little bit frustrating, and I took a stab at exploring the multitude of emotions that accompany endurance in my ‘Velocity‘ post. I’m also pretty sure that my spirit animal, at least as far as endurance goes, is a Whack-A-Mole.

May

The month in which I proved just how obsessed I am with a horse aside from my own pony.

thumbnail_714671E7-14AB-4066-9995-F0A5089C5C6F

Flash fractured a front P1 (long pastern bone), and the vet clinic where he had his surgery and recovery was only a few miles from my house, so I went down every day to visit him. I haven’t spent that much time hanging out with a horse “just because” since the years that Mimi was boarded 5 minutes away from my house, and it was really special. I spent a lot of time talking to him, scratching all of his itchy spots, and taking a truly obnoxious number of selfies with him. (This is what happens when my own pony loathes selfies, and I had access to a horse that loves them…I make up for it in one condensed period of time. Mimi might love the camera on the trail/in the arena, but I think Flash loves all cameras, all the time. What a ham and show-off.)

thumbnail_334A2BB6-48AF-4234-8411-621FDE3B261E

Mimi turned 26, and we did quite a bit of riding, including new-to-us trails at Coon’s Bluff.

60123280_10110824567422011_5949061993141895168_n

She has also *not* outgrown her Destructo-Pony indiscretions of youth.

Every summer, Mimi tends to get really itchy along her midline, so this year, I experimented with a super lightweight, soft mesh fly sheet. It did the job, and she made it through the summer without the typical itchy, irritated midline, or having to be slathered in some kind of topical goo or ointment. However, that sheet basically had the life expectancy of “one summer of pony use,” and is now in tatters. It did the job, though, and I saved $$$ on fly spray and topical ointments and treatments. It was super light-weight, and never rubbed or heated her up…so that’s an experiment I will likely repeat this upcoming year.

June

I helped launch the Arizona Endurance Riders Club, and the club put on its first event, an Endurance 101 clinic. This year has seen several 101 clinics, some endurance ride potlucks and social time, and some smaller “mini-clinics” covering more in-depth information on a couple of specific topics at a time pertaining to endurance.

I finally rode the Log Corral trail on Stephanie’s horse Ash. Great 18-mile-roundtrip training ride, and with enough water along the way to make it do-able in the summer.

64767702_10110979768263281_3529386111312855040_n

Smoke from the Woodbury Fire seen from the barn arena

The Woodbury Fire started in the Superstition Mountain Wilderness, and by the time it was all said and done, burned over 123,000 acres and became the 5th-largest wildfire in AZ history.

July

Mimi comes alive during the summer. She absolutely loves the heat, and I ended up hacking her out around the barn quite a bit. I also had my new Hylofit heart rate monitor to play with and make my data-loving little brain quite happy.

August

Crewing Tevis for my decade year of crewing was a big part of this month. There were a lot of people that I know riding this year…some finished, some didn’t. I crewed for my friend Cathy, and she and her mare finished just after 5am…the horse’s first 100.

September

The end of August is my birthday, and it happened to run into Labor Day weekend this year…so I celebrated by heading up to Utah for a visit with my long-time best friend. It was a fun getaway with an overnight trip down to Cedar City for the Shakespeare Festival, and a side trip to the Cedar Breaks National Monument on the way back.

 

I also helped put on another Endurance 101 clinic, mused on heart horses, and finally, wrapped up the month with a training ride in Prescott on Atti in prep for attending Man Against Horse.

September is also Artemis’s birthday — she turned 6 this year!

70745357_10111373679397211_2767025159960264704_n

October

I finished the 50-miler at Man Against Horse on Atti.

2019-ManVHorse-0415

It’s Sofie’s birthday (8 years old!) and “Gotcha” month (4 years!).

72689072_10111479177712741_177952662715629568_n

It’s also Mimi’s “Gotcha” month — 23 years together!

71865219_10111462073345031_6992495276611076096_n

As I wrote on Facebook: “She never gets any less special, or less significant in my life. She’s the bar and the standard against which I match all other horses. She’s my original schoolmaster and life lesson-giver. My mane to cry in, and spotty nose to smooch. My original heart horse. Happy Gotcha Day, Mimi…23 years of memories, tears, laughter, success. You still delight my heart.

November

Artemis’s Gotcha month (6 years); I wrapped up my first block of Fieldwork for Masterson Method certification with a “coaching day” evaluation down in Sierra Vista (and a visit afterwards to nearby Tombstone); and ended the month with a family trip up to Idaho for Thanksgiving.

December

Project Ridgecrest” starts and Atti comes to stay at the barn where I keep Mimi. The goal is 20 Mule Team 100 in February, with plenty of conditioning, training, and a couple of competitions between now and then, starting with the LD at Dashing Through the Trails.

84136293-2019-Dashing+Through+The+Trails-0454

The rest of the month has involved some fun Christmas stuff like cookie baking (when your gingerbread cracks or loses limbs, give them icing stitches and call them gingerbread endurance riders) and catching light displays, and some more training rides for Atti.

As we head into 2020, and the start of a new decade (!!!), I don’t know what will be in store. It’s nice to have some early plans and goals to shoot for, but beyond that point, it remains to be seen what will happen and what the year will bring.

 

Heart Horses

I think anyone who has been around horses for any length of time has heard the term “heart horse.” That special horse with whom you share a special bond, an almost indescribable feeling you get when you’re around them.

I found the above video yesterday, courtesy of my Facebook feed, and I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched it. I love some of the descriptions they use…how they are “…the horse that brings out the best in you…not only teaches you to be a better rider, but a better person.”

I’d never quite heard it put into words that way, but I think that describes it really well. I can say I’ve learned something from every horse I’ve ridden, and there are very few times I’ve ever regretted climbing into the saddle…but those heart horses…they’re something special.

I got very, very lucky: my first horse is one of my heart horses. Not too many people are that fortunate right off the bat to end up with a lifetime heart horse that they keep for a couple decades and counting. Granted, I spent several years of riding lesson horses before I ever got Mimi, but some of those lesson horses did their best to try to dissuade a small, horse-crazy child from further pursuing her passion.

Fortunately, there were enough good ones — the priceless schoolmasters — that kept me in the saddle and kept me going. But until that first time I climbed onto Mimi’s back, I didn’t know a horse could make me feel that way. The naughty ones had terrified me, and the schoolmasters took care of me through the fear…but on Mimi? For the first time ever on the back of a horse, I felt fearless. Together, we could go anywhere, do anything…we could fly.

Of course, that feeling didn’t always exist…for the next couple of years, there was a steep learning curve of young rider + young pony, with more than one session that ended in tears (since I was too young to curse at the time). But I always clung to that feeling I had on our initial ride together, knowing what was possible.

30

together, we can fly

Do we get more than one heart horse in life? I certainly like to think so, or hope so. I’ve gotten along well with pretty much all of the catch horses I’ve ridden, have clicked with a few of them, and yes, have even felt that same “together, we can fly” feeling with one.

So, what is it about a heart horse that makes them special? Everyone is probably going to have their own answer for that. It may not necessarily involve logic. In fact, if you sat down and made a pros and cons list of that horse’s characteristics, there’s probably a subheading somewhere on that list of “All The Reasons This Is A Bad Idea.” But there’s a reason they’re called “heart horses” and not “brain horses,” because while the brain is chewing over logic, the heart is daydreaming of the most recent Magical Moment with that horse.

It may not even take much. Half an arena length of a perfectly balanced, floating canter. A whiskery nuzzle against your cheek to sop up tear tracks. Whatever silly shenanigans they’ve most recently come up with (such as why my 26-yr-old pony has suddenly reverted back to her juvenile behavior of destroying her fly masks on a weekly basis?!?).

Or it’s something huge, like such a feeling of confidence and connection that you have to curb the impulse to jump on their bare back and head off to parts unknown. The forgiveness and trust they extend, even when you’ve done things that should have broken it. The lessons they are gracious enough to teach. Knowing when they absolutely need to take care of their rider.

Large or small, those moments all add up into a wonderful kaleidoscope of memories and feelings that envelope you, and you want to laugh, and smile, and cry all at the same time, because it’s a feeling that’s hard to compare to anything else.

One of my favorite tights companies, PerformaRide, recently released their 2019 limited edition range of tights and accessories, and this year’s theme is “Empower.” Four prints/designs, each with a different animal as a totem of an element of personal empowerment and the feelings we have in the saddle. Flamingo: Graceful; Tiger: Power; Wolf: Courage; Horse: Freedom. I really can’t think of a better way to distill down the essence of what I feel in the saddle than that.

For sure I’m more graceful dancing up the trail with my horse than when I’ve shuffled the same trail on my own two feet. Power? We all know the notion that we can physically control a 1000-pound flight animal is laughable…but the true power comes from being in a partnership with said 1000-pound flight animal, and them trusting me enough to let me guide them. “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” Nothing more needs said, other than to celebrate the feeling of cantering through the desert, with nothing but the sound of hoofbeats, snorting nostrils, and the wind whispering past your ears. And courage…it’s taken a lot of courage to get me in the saddle on many occasions. But in return, I’ve seen that courage come back to me, with that incredible, “take on the world and fly” feeling.

Are they perfect? Hahahaha…no. See above about the “teaching you to be a better rider.” And better horseperson. And how to think outside the box. How to question the norm. What to do when “what you’ve always done” doesn’t work. They also make me want to be better. To figure out the why behind a behavior or other challenge, and figure out what they might be trying to tell me. To better my skills, my knowledge, my communication. I’ve learned better emotional control, and impulse control. I’ve learned to let go, trust the horse more, and to not micromanage. To pick my battles. That those extraordinary horses in life may comes with a few extras quirks, shenanigans, and speed bumps in the road.

To those special, special horses who have left your hoofprints permanently embedded in my heart…thank you. For everything. The good moments, and the bad. The times I’ve wanted to scream or cry, and the times I’ve wanted to shout from the rooftops. The life lessons. The mane to cry in. The whiskery muzzle to smooch. The shenanigans, the laughter, the headaches, the heartaches. All of it has shaped my life, and contributed to the building blocks of who I am.

Your turn, readers…Let’s hear about your heart horse(s) and celebrate these special equines in our lives!

silhouette 1 copy

Happy 26th, Mimi + Coon Bluff Ride

ISTR3656

Happy 26th birthday, baby girl!

I seriously can’t believe my little pony is 26. She really doesn’t act like it, especially mentally, and physically, she still seems like she’s doing quite well. We just puttered around today, and mostly treated it as an excuse to overindulge her in carrots and apples and cookies.

But last weekend was her “pre-birthday” ride, and we explored a brand-new-to-us location: Coon Bluff out at the Salt River. I’ve ridden around several different areas at the Salt River over the years, including Bulldog Canyon, Blue Point, Stewart Mtn, Phon D Sutton…half a dozen staging areas all within a few mile radius of the same intersection. But Coon Bluff was a first, and we saw all new-to-us trails, and had probably one of the best rides we’ve had in several years.

IMG_7824

pre-ride napping against the trailer

Most of our group rides lately have been group ride, which are fine…it’s certainly better than not getting out at all. But they’ve never been our favorite thing, for many reasons. Mimi is competitive…she likes to lead, or be very close to the front. I am a chronic overly responsible worrier, which means I am always listening for every indication of possible equine shenanigans or trouble. In a group ride, I don’t always know the people and horses, or know their capabilities, so I have a hard time relaxing when I’m constantly on alert for how everyone else is doing. Historically, I’ve had the most enjoyment either on our own, or with one other horse/rider.

This time, wish granted, since it was just barn owner Chris and myself riding, and Mimi and Chris’s mare Tuudy are buds, but not excessively so. Tuudy also likes to lead, but they’re a good trail team in that they are actually able to trade off leading-following fairly happily, with neither of them really setting the other off or devolving into jigging fits. Which meant we both had a really good ride.

Chris had been to Coon Bluff a few times before, so she navigated, showing us access pints to the river, crossing points when it’s low enough, and a great mix of trails. The area is also host to the multiple mini bands of the Salt River Wild Horses. And they were out in droves that day. Super-proud of Mimi…she was curious, but happy to keep trucking by at a healthy distance away.

IMG_7839

In fact, I was super-proud of her all day. My arms and hands were feeling pretty sore, and a firm grip wasn’t happening after a 12+ hour carpet and tile cleaning job the previous day, so I was riding with a loose/soft rein…big change of pace for me, the chronic “when in doubt, shorten the reins and grab harder” control freak. :/ And you know what? She did fabulous, including through some spooks and moment that rightly should have set her off (rattling truck with kayaks on top, off-roading through some rough stuff right beside the horses)m and then later meeting kayaks down in the river.

IMG_7853

The last time she saw kayaks, about 10 years ago, she was not this amused…and I was not on her back.

Kind of hard to believe that even at age 16, she was generating reactions to things like kayaks, enough to make me not want to be on her back at the time…bombproof, she certainly is not. And the funny thing is, even after what will be 23 years together this fall, I’m still learning how to be better…for her, with her. But this was probably one of the first times I’ve had that relaxed of a ride on her, that I didn’t micromanage every one of her reactions, and finally just trusted all of the work, training, and years together…to trust that she wouldn’t jig if I gave her a loose rein, that her spook at a plastic bag would be contained and in-place, that just looking at something meant that’s all she was going to do…just look.

IMG_7835

This footing!!! I want to put a ride on out here someday. Pretty sure I can get 50 miles of trail. And a lot of it looks like this. A few sections of rock, but it wouldn’t be AZ without at least a few obligatory curses at rocks along the way.

The last year or so of catch rides I’ve done and horses I’ve ridden have done light years for my confidence and competence again. I mean, yeah, I still have plenty of self-doubts, and moments of wondering about myself and the sport of endurance, but it’s gotten better, at least.

IMG_7845

wild lantana…it loved the really soft sand areas

IMG_7855

The kind of trails that made me long to be back in endurance mode with her.

IMG_7861

River-side trails…that’s the Salt River just below us.

Now, the whole Salt River area is one of those spots that doesn’t have much by way of marked, “official” trails. Some marked Forest Service roads (it’s all Tonto National Forest back in there), and a handful of short signed trails…and a whole spaghetti-tangle of rider-made trails and wild horse trails (that go under the mesquite trails that are tall enough to clear the back of a little 14hh wild horse…but not so accommodating of a mounted rider). So it helps to have a good sense of direction, and someone who has been there before. And even they, you might end up detoured and getting in some “bonus miles” because you have to keep detouring around the herds, and getting a little off track…

But the bonus miles meant we ended up logging a nice 7-mile ride.

IMG_7866

It’s a jungle out there…

And whoever says Arizona is a dry desert with no trees??? Liars. This whole area is mesquite forest, cottonwoods, and other shrubby vegetation stuff that is more than happy to grow near the river. It was an absolutely delightful little jewel of an area to discover, and I’m still amazed I hadn’t been to it before.

IMG_7869

The one official trail sign I saw out there…

IMG_7873

Keeping up her “endurance pony who will drink from any water source” credentials