Virtual Tevis: Week 2 and into Week 3

thumbnail_IMG_4491

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.

IMG_9106

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.

thumbnail_IMG_4257

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.

thumbnail_IMG_4431

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.

thumbnail_IMG_4443

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.

thumbnail_IMG_4452

thumbnail_IMG_4469

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…

thumbnail_IMG_4479

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

thumbnail_IMG_3179

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

fly sheet 2020 3

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.

fly sheet 2020

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.

fly sheet 2020 2

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.

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.