Through Their Ears

For curiosity’s sake, I sat down and started tallying up how many horses I’ve ridden. Taking into account everything from test rides of sale horses to endurance competitions, in over 25 years of riding, I’ve ridden 80+ different horses, and just in endurance alone, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to compete on over a dozen different horses.

That’s a lot of different sets of ears through which I’ve viewed the trail, and a lot of “other people’s horses.” And I’ve learned something from all of them.

(And several others that I never got any ear!cam shots.)

 

Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2018

76195737-2018-Bumble-Bee-0061

photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

In a roundabout way, I ended up with a ride entry to Bumble Bee via the Convention raffle (friend won it, but wasn’t going to be able to make it to the ride, so offered it to me), but found myself with none of my prior catch rides available. So I let a couple of friends know I was available and looking for a horse, and left it at that. Worse case scenario, if I couldn’t find a ride, I would be able to transfer my entry to next year, and I would go up and volunteer.

A week and half out from the ride, I got a Facebook message from Troy Eckard, with an offer to ride his second horse, Flash, if I was interested. It was an offer than needed no thought whatsoever, and within seconds, I was on the phone confirming that “yes, please, I would be quite interested.” Flash is experienced, with over 1000 miles and a Tevis completion last summer, and this ride was to serve as another notch in his conditioning belt towards Tevis this summer.

Of course, the weekend before the ride, I started battling a head cold, but spent several days throwing every kind of odd concoction I could find down the hatch, and I think the cold germs finally just gave up in disgust and fled (granted, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and horseradish is a little odd, but I promise, it tasted better than it sounds or smells), because I was feeling completely back to normal by the Thursday of ride week, and woke up Friday morning absolutely ready to rock the ride.

I had also arranged to do a boot fitting for a good friend (the credit/blame goes to her for being the one to introduce my father and I to more “extreme” trail riding, thus setting us off on what would eventually lead to endurance) that morning up in Camp Verde…normally way outside how far I’m willing to travel, but for that long-standing of a friend, and given the fact I would already be more than halfway up there for Bumble Bee, I made an exception. So I spent a couple of hours with her and her four horses, getting everyone sized and fitted and catching up on life before I headed back down to Bumble Bee.

img_2675.jpg

Bumble Bee and Crown King…two of my favorite destinations for my riding and running activities. I feel like I’ve traveled back this road a number of times now. 8 times, as a matter of fact.

IMG_2678

Driving through the burn area…this spot got hit last summer with the “Maggie” Fire — while not that large at 1400 acres, it burned across a section of the Black Canyon Trail, and came right up to the southern perimeter of Bumble Bee Ranch. They’ve also had no appreciable rain since April of last year, so everything is still really dry and crunchy, with no regrowth over the winter.

Every year, I cuss out the dirt portion of the road to the ranch, and habitually forget that I drive a 4WD truck until about a mile or so in, at which point I remember, “Those 4WD control buttons on your dash are there for a reason.” And then my 4WD gets its annual use.

img_2680.jpg

The amusement factor of this sign never gets old. Pretty sure there are more cows every year, though.

img_2683.jpg

Home sweet ridecamp. I’ve made it here five out of the six years the ride has been held, so it’s familiar stomping grounds for me at this point.

I got myself checked in and did some socializing, and once Troy arrived, went over to meet my ride.

IMG_2687

Meet Flash. Say hello, Flash.

Like I mentioned, Flash has some good experience under his girth. He’s also tall (15.2 or 15.3 using my highly scientific “his withers are higher than my eyebrows” method), gorgeous, and has “opinions” about just about everything in life. He is personality+ and I adored him immediately.

We got camp set up, then headed over to vet in the boys (Flash, and Troy’s mount Rymoni).

All day, it had been blowing gale-force winds (pretty sure I heard predicted there would be gusts up to 60mph at times), but we needed to get stirrups on Flash’s saddle adjusted for me, as well as the whole “maybe get to know the horse, at least briefly” aspect…so we saddled up for a quick pre-ride. Right away, we set a good tone with Flash standing politely while I climbed on and we fiddled with the stirrups, then meandered out of camp.

IMG_2688

Saddled up and ready to go. My inner tack ho fashionista approves of the black/silver tack for him. It adds to the “badass warhorse” image.

IMG_2690

Casual stroll through the desert. Wind conditions? NBD. Flapping sheet metal? Generated one little snort and side-eye. Cows? Lemme at ’em.

The wind didn’t faze either of the boys, and we got a good stretch in…mostly walking, tossed in a bit of trotting to stretch them out, and a very brief canter, so I could get a feel for all of Flash’s gaits.

They do the ride dinner Friday evening before briefing — Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a nice spread of spaghetti and meatballs and salad, and the pavilion is a great spot for both dinner and ride briefing.

Ride start for the 50s was 6:00AM (yay, beat the heat!), so the boys got to go for a little leg stretch walk, then got tucked in with light blankets for the night. I gotta admit, even if it gets warm in the day, I kind of prefer the April ride date over the January one…much more pleasant overnight temperatures.

Ride morning, I was up plenty early, my standard two hours before the start to give myself time to ease into the morning — dress, coffee, eat — without rushing around. I already had my hydration pack set with water and food, and extra water bottles ready for the saddle. Tacking up was a quick affair, Flash again stood quietly for me to get on, and we meandered over to the start on a loose rein with a couple minutes to spare.

30725573_10216458430841336_1307113975553038526_n

Chillin’ at the start. Tammy, Troy, and myself.

I’ve had some interesting ride starts in the past, so I’m never quite sure what to expect…especially since I could feel Flash literally quivering with anticipation. I had internally steeled myself for the inevitable rocket launch when the “Trail’s Open” call was given…and we casually walked out on a loose rein.

Okaaayyyy. With just a bit of encouragement from me, Flash clicked over into his power walk, and the front half of the 11 starters in the 50 made their way calmly through the ranch and out onto the trail where everyone picked up a trot and started cruising down the trail. The main objective in this first section was “keep it to a dull roar” and while Flash was strong and would have liked to go faster, he was certainly obedient enough to my request the tone it down just a bit.

76195739-2018-Bumble-Bee-0070

photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

We had a clever little checkpoint out at Antelope Falls, where the trail for the 50s breaks off from the shared trail and heads further east for several miles before cutting back in and rejoining the shared trail. In the past, riders have been asked to pick up some kind of token, but this year, there was sign with a question on it, and you would be asked for the answer back at camp during the one-hour hold. Nice to not have to worry about losing some kind of token, or jumping off to sign a clipboard.

IMG_2694

Antelope Falls. Normally there’s water there, but everything was so dry this year. Our checkpoint question was on the white sign.

My favorite section of this ride is the Black Canyon Trail — all single-track, fairly smooth, with just a few rocky areas and enough ups and downs to keep it very interesting. It’s a trail that really helps to have an athletic horse…one that had a former life as a dressage horse was a major bonus.

IMG_2701

On the Black Canyon Trail, making our way (eventually) towards camp

I’ve run or ridden this section of the BCT multiple times now, and it never fails to delight me. It’s scenic, it’s interesting, it keeps you and the horse paying attention. To me, that all adds up to what makes a really fun trail.

The trail eventually ends up in a wash that has a tiny little creek running through it — another favorite section of trail. This time, I laugh a lot as Flash was being a bit prissy about the whole “trotting through the water” idea. He thought we should be to the side of it, or jumping over it, and when we’d start trotting through it, I could see him actually wrinkling his nose up a little bit. Again, “opinions.” He also couldn’t possibly drink out of the stream water…but as soon as we hit the water troughs set out in front of the ranch, he tanked up.

The horses (and riders) get a bit of a mind-twist at this point. The trail for the 25s goes right up into the ranch, but the 50s end up heading up the wash for another several miles before looping back down and coming in the same way we went out in the morning. Both boys kept glancing over as we headed up the wash, just looking for a break in the vegetation, or a trail that would offer the first opportunity to cut east and head back. Their wish was eventually granted…several miles later.

The trail coming back into camp is pretty nice, although there are several gates to be opened, but we took it easy, backing off the pace the closer we got, and hopping off and hand-jogging in the last quarter mile before walking the last 100 yards or so. They boys had drank really well not far out from camp, so they weren’t interested in the in-camp water when offered, so we immediately went over to pulse and both were down right away.

They got a little bit of time back at the trailer first to eat, then we took them back over to vet. Passed with flying colors, and then back to the trailer again to chow and snooze. I got my pack ready to go back out on loop 2 — refill water, add more food — then briefly sat down to eat a quick lunch and send a quick text update to friends/family. The hour hold actually zoomed by, and before long, it was time to head back over to the out-timer, with a couple minutes to spare.

The first part of loop two is called the “Miner Bob” loop, apparently named after a miner in the area. It’s got a lot of mining claims, and still some kind of mining activity here and there. It’s a more technical, slow-going loop — part of it is winding through a wash in a canyon (Troy and I were both at Virginia City 100 last year, and did some reminiscing about how at least this section was easier than Bailey Canyon at VC), so there’s some slowing down through rough footing.

IMG_2709

Our daily dose of rock climbing

There were more hills and climbs on this section, too, and Flash is a great climber, so he and I lead through this section multiple times. Leading is definitely his happy place, and his enthusiasm was infectious…several times, as I would duck alongside his neck for an overhanging tree branch, I couldn’t help but just giggle. He’s definitely a horse that makes me laugh.

IMG_2707

Trot anything that’s smooth, walk the rough.

IMG_2714

Last climb out from Miner Bob Loop

Once clear of Miner Bob Loop, it was back onto the Black Canyon Trail, this time heading in the opposite direction from the first loop. But first, a pause down in the creek, for a drink and for Flash to proceed to pose for photographer Sue Kordish.

76195742-2018-Bumble-Bee-066576195744-2018-Bumble-Bee-066776195746-2018-Bumble-Bee-067176195748-2018-Bumble-Bee-0672

The last two especially are my favorites. He is such a ham for the camera, and I could feel him deliberately focusing on Sue, and then doing some kind of little pose or showoff moment.

I finally had to convince the showman to get his butt back on the trail, which he did, and quite cheerfully as soon as he realized we were leading out. I had the best time ever the next 5 miles or so back up the BCT in the lead, and it felt like we danced down that trail. He was soft, responsive, and so incredibly tuned in to whatever I was asking.

IMG_2720

Leading ears on the BCT

I always feel supremely fortunate whenever I experience one of those “horsey zen” moments at a ride, and this was definitely one of them.

Coming off the BCT, we rejoined the same trail from the morning, minus the detour out to Antelope Falls, and eventually connected to the very same in-trail from loop one. We followed the same routine of slowly backing their pace off the closer we got to camp, coming in at an easy jog, and meandering across the finish line, with a round of rock-paper-scissors to determine placing order.

We also found out we were in 2nd and 3rd — which was quite a surprise, as we had been sitting in 4th/5th all day, but somewhere in the last few miles, the two in front of us made a navigation error, and they ended up coming in about 10 minutes behind us.

IMG_2725

Finished! 3rd place, ride time of 6:21.

That also meant getting to show for Best Condition — the first time for me! The vets did a CRI 10 minutes after finishing, and then we took the boys back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat before BC judging an hour after our finish time.

76198096-2018-Bumble-Bee-1052

Doing our trot-out for the CRI
photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Troy’s Rymoni came away with Best Condition, but I was pretty tickled to find out that Flash had the high vet score. Always super gratifying to know that you rode well, finished well, and the horse looked good.

IMG_2730

Out for a walk later that afternoon. Both showered and cleaned up, and still enjoying each other’s company.

Because I don’t particularly like driving down I-17 and back into Phoenix on a weekend evening (hello, crazier-than-normal traffic)…and I don’t spend nearly as much time with my endurance tribe as I would like…I had decided to stay over Saturday night, then head back home Sunday morning. Good call, as it made for a leisurely afternoon, plenty of socializing, and not having to mainline large amount of caffeine to avoid being zombie!driver.

Sunday morning, it was super-cute to see how cheerful Flash looked — I came around the corner of the trailer, and he looked up, ears up and eyes bright, like, “Oh, it’s you! Hi!!” And I didn’t even have food for him. ;) Safe to say I definitely connected very strongly with him. He took really good care of me, made me laugh countless times, and I just felt really strong and confident riding him. It was an eye-opening, inspiring weekend, that’s for sure.

I have no idea what’s next on the books, since the AZ ride season winds down from now until the fall, but as always, just kind of playing everything by ear and taking things as they come…

Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50

75291821-2018-Tonto+Twist-0116

photo by Susan Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Alternate titles:

“Not According to Plan”
“How Not To Start Off Your Ride Season”
“At Least We Did An LD”
“Did We Get the Bad Stuff Out of the Way Early?”

In short: Lameness pull after the first 30-mile loop. <insert lots of sad trombone noises here> Minor, but consistent, on the right front…the same RF the vet was looking at suspiciously on Friday at vet-in.

Lesson #1: Always trot the horse out at home before you load them into the trailer.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude them from bonking themselves in the trailer along the way, or thrashing on the high-tie, or stepping wrong on the pre-ride, or…or…or…

In short, I still have no idea what happened. No heat, swelling, or reactions to anything on his shoulder or leg. Current working theory is maybe some lingering foot soreness from trimming, because he displayed more of a consistent choppiness/short-striding on that leg versus a pronounced head-bob/limp.

Lesson #2: You will second-guess yourself about everything. Welcome to endurance.

Every pull, I armchair quarterback. I look back and go, “What could I have done different? If I had done such-and-such, could I have changed the outcome?” And then there’s the dangerous path of “maybe I should have just played it safe and never tried.” Because that comes with its own set of “What ifs” to the tune of, “What if I had tried and it worked? Now I’ll never know…”

Yes, endurance riding can sometimes be a metaphor for life.

Luck wasn’t on my side this time around, so it didn’t all go as I had hoped…but I know myself well enough to know that if I had elected to not start, I would have spent the whole weekend wondering.

IMG_1488

settled in camp; time for a pre-ride

So, to the actual ride. Originally, the plan was for Barb to ride K-Man and for me to take Junior. Middle of the week, she texts me that plans changed…she and K had an incident while clipping, with the end result being her on the ground and one very bruised and sore body/tailbone. In other words, “50 miles in the saddle wasn’t going to happen.” But I should still take the rig and Junior and go to the ride.

Ooookay, then. Nothing like mixing things up a bit. Fun fact: This would only be the second time going to a ride all by myself, in 12 years of endurance. I guess I’m pretty adaptable, because I like going with a ride buddy, but I was also okay by myself. It was kind of nice/different to be able to operate entirely on my own schedule/timeline and feel that independent.

This ride won the award for “closest and most convenient ride ever” — only half an hour away from my house, and a little over an hour away from Barb’s. Friday morning saw me gathering up all my stuff (including a last-minute “bring all the jackets I can find” round of packing in response to the 60% chance of rain now being forecast for Saturday) and heading up to pick up the horse and the rig. Got everything transferred over to the trailer, loaded up Junior, and we were on our way. I even got to drag the trailer through my hated nemesis of a freeway exit, which features two roundabouts instead of our standard stoplights. So dumb, so confusing, and so not made for large trailers. But we did it, without a single curb check or running anyone else out of their lane. Not bad for only my 6th time hauling a gooseneck.

In camp, I set up next to some friends, got Junior settled in with food and water, got the lay of the land and some socialization in, fitted and adjusted Junior’s boots, then saddled up for a short, “blow out the cobwebs” pre-ride.

IMG_1489

heading out to pre-ride; those are the Superstition Mountains

One of the things I really appreciate about Junior is how solid he is under saddle. Tacking up, he was all kinds of squirrely and fidgety, but as soon as my butt hit the saddle, he was all business, marching through camp and out to the trails. We got a good stretch in, and Junior felt strong and happy to be out. Back to camp, and I checked in, got my vet card (all printable material such as maps had been emailed to riders ahead of time so that we could print out as much or little as we needed/wanted, and management had extras on-site if needed, but it was really nice to have that material before the ride), then fetched Junior for vetting in.

He felt so good when we were pre-riding, so needless to say I was completely thrown for a loop when the vet said, “trot him again, I think there’s something on the right front.”

Uggghhhh. In my experience, being asked to trot out again has rarely ended well.

After going again, the vet said there was something really subtle there…subtle enough that if it was during at at the finish of the ride, she certainly wouldn’t pull me…but something to be aware of at the start of the ride, and she wouldn’t prevent me from starting.

Back at the trailer, I immediately called Barb and detailed out what was going on. After chatting for a bit, she ultimately told me to go ahead and start, and if he was off along the way, pull him. He was completely nonreactive to any poking or prodding of his leg and shoulder, and his movement (slightly “short” on that side), coupled with Barb’s comment he had seemed slightly sore a couple days after trimming when she had taken him out the weekend before, had me contemplating if maybe he had some bruising or soreness.

To that end, I promptly starting digging through my supplies for anything I could use to make some pads for his boots. After some digging, I ended up jerrying rigging something together out of spare heel captivator liners, duct tape, and double-sided carpet tape. Not pretty, but certainly innovative…

By the time I got that project all wrapped up, it was time for the potluck dinner and ride meeting. And boy do people know how to potluck. There was a huge spread of food set out, with all manner of main dishes and sides (and desserts). No problem with going hungry here…or worries about dropping below your weight division.

IMG_1496

if you find a buddy to share the chocolate-chip cheesecake with, it doesn’t count

The ride meeting went over the usual — trail markings, water stops, check points, loops (there were 3 — 30/14/6 miles, with a 1-hour hold between loops 1 and 2, and a gate-n-go check between 2 and 3) — although this ride would feature something new: the option to use the “Ride With GPS” app, a turn-by-turn audio track of the trail. The trail was fully marked with traditional ribbons, but we were going to be using some highly-populated, very popular shared trails (other horsepeople, hikers, bikes, ATVs, jeeps, campers), and there was some concerns about removal of trail markers, or the potential for sabotage. Having the app on our phone would give it turn-by-turn directions along the way and act as a back-up in case of questions.

The subject is really deserving of its own post, but the CliffNotes version is that I overall liked the idea. A few times, I got a bit tired of listening to my phone yapping at me so frequently — the directions were very detailed — but I’m also coming from the perspective of knowing and being very familiar with probably a good 85-90% of the trails that were being used and I tend to have a good sense of direction. But what was nice was hearing the voice telling me to do something, see a ribbon, and keep going, versus the worry of “I haven’t seen a ribbon for a while…am I still on the right trail?”

Post-briefing, I took Junior out for one last stroll around camp (the Tour de Water Troughs), tucked him in with a fresh bag of hay, and retreated to the trailer to tuck myself in. With a 7am ride start, I didn’t have to be up ridiculously early — 5am left me plenty of time to dress, walk and feed Junior, feed myself, and get tacked up. I put his newly-padded boots on, and trotted him out in-hand…and he looked good. I had told myself that if he was still off, even after the pads, I wouldn’t start. But he looked good, and when I hopped aboard and walked and trotted him around, he felt good. So off to check-in at the start we went.

Junior is also a really good boy at the start. Will walk out on a loose rein, no matter how many horses around him. But when you trot, you had better be ready, because it will not be a quiet little 5mph dib-dib jog. Nope, the turbo will kick on, and he’ll be ready to roll. He’s one of those horses whose natural, comfortable speed is a little bit on the faster end of the scale, and it’s taken me some time to get used to that and re-calibrate my own internal speedometer, which is used to a much slower default setting. But the more I’ve gotten used to it, the more fun I’m having, and the more comfortable overall I’m becoming in the saddle “at speed” so to speak.

We had a controlled start out out base camp, and through several hundred yards of single-track trail that opened up into a wider, double-track road, at which point we were turned loose. Junior had gotten a nice walking warm-up in, so as soon as we hit the road, I let him trot out, and we actually had our own little space bubble in fairly short order. The first several miles went by really fast — mostly good footing and fairly flat as we made our way up to the Goldfield Mountains and the pass that would take us through the mountains out spit us out on the north side of them.

75291824-2018-Tonto+Twist-0118

photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Photographers Sue and John Kordish were waiting for us part of the way up a steep slickrock climb, and, as always, got some amazing ride photos. I love tackling technical trail on a solid, athletic, trail-savvy horse, and Junior scampered up the rock like no big deal.

75291826-2018-Tonto+Twist-0119

photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Once at the top of the climb, we started hitting the more technical, rocky, slower-going sections of the trail. But we were also on the top of a ridgeline overlooking the most amazing spread of desert and mountain ranges.

IMG_1502

who cares about going slower with that kind of view?!

IMG_1499

there’s all kinds of legends and lore of gold in the Superstition Mountains (look up the Lost Dutchman mine if you’re curious), but I got a different kind of gold this morning

The predicted clouds and cold front also started rolling in more enthusiastically by this time, and what had started out as breezy, with a few wisps of clouds, was rapidly turning into full cloud cover with a cold wind.

IMG_1504

got rocks? I think I found where I need to go when I want to practice for Virginia City

Fortunately Junior was pretty agreeable about pacing, and had enough experience and trail sense to slow down on his own in the worst of it, and was willing to listen to my suggestions of “no, we are going to walk this section” when requested.

IMG_1508

there’s some sort of cave tucked in that rock formation behind the saguaro

The trail wound us through a wash, and eventually spit us out onto a forest service road. We’d been warned about it — rocky, hard-packed, would probably make people grumble…but also the only way for the trails to be connected and for the ride to happen. It wasn’t dissimilar to the road on the 50 at Man Against Horse, so I just employed the same strategy — trot when you can, walk everything else. We had our own space bubble by that point, and Junior just motored along, steadily eating up the miles as we made our way through the mountain pass and down to Bulldog Canyon.

Bulldog Canyon is about 4 miles of mostly sand wash…take it far enough, and you run into the Salt River, but today, we were heading uphill in the opposite direction. We had caught up to a few people at this point, and four of us took advantage of being off the slow-going road and moved up into a trot and canter through the wash. The company was nice at this point, because there were campers set up out there, so you’d come around a blind turn and there would be a huge campsite set-up off to the side, and more than one horse was somewhat startled by the slightly unusual sight.

IMG_1514

along the road; once we were clear of it, I didn’t end up taking any more pics due to the “moving out and making time” factor

Just a short way up the wash, we had our first water stop and checkpoint, 12 miles in. They also had hay and carrots, so we stayed there for several minutes. Junior drank a little bit, peed, ate several carrots, and chowed down on some hay. There wasn’t much to eat along the trail, so having hay at most of the stops was very welcome, and well worth the extra few minutes of stopping.

The next stop was 4 miles away, at the main trailhead/entrance area to Bulldog Canyon. It’s gorgeous footing, and the wash isn’t too deep, so we had fun boogieing through this section. We were also on my familiar turf now — I’ve ridden Bulldog multiple times, so know what to expect and where we were going. We had a bit of trail traffic through here — it’s a popular off-roading destination for ATVs and jeeps — but everyone was courteous and polite about passing/yielding the trail.

Into the water stop at 16 miles, Junior drank really well, and settled in with a nice flake of alfalfa. They also had volunteers there handing out Platinum flax snack bars for the horses (Junior approved) and trail mix and fruit to the riders. I got a water bottle re-filled, and downed a packet of trail mix while Junior ate. Another 5 minutes there, but Junior ate the whole time, and then when he was ready, he moved himself away from the hay and back towards the trail. Okay, then…on we go. We had our own space bubble back at this point, and picked up the trail that would take us into Usery Mountain Park.

Ah, some of my home trails. I’ve been riding, running, and hiking these trails for probably close to 20 years now, and I love them. Lots of single-track that twists and turns, climbs and drops…mostly good footing, and definitely a trail to enjoy if you have an athletic, agile horse. Lots of trail traffic here — Usery is a major county regional park, so very popular with hikers and bikers, especially on the weekends. I passed numerous hikers in this section, and everyone was really polite and curious.

Management had done a ton of advertising about the ride ahead of time, and there were signs posted at all of the trailhead access points, informing trail users of an event going on that day. That said, we were still on shared trails — and while horses always have the right of way, I try to be cognizant of not abusing that right. Yes, we were in a competition setting…but that doesn’t mean “run over everything in your way.” Part of being out on these trails and using them is to be ambassadors for the sport. Stopping and walking by hikers, exchanging greetings, or even pausing to give a brief explanation of what you’re doing, all go a long way towards building and keeping good trail relationships. They also tend to get a kick out of seeing Junior’s Renegades — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Hey, those look like Crocs for horses!” or “That horse has hiking boots on!” over the years when using Renegades. Again — it becomes something they can relate to (special gear that has a purpose, just like their own hiking boots) and fosters that sense of trail community.

Okay, PSA over…I just feel like because I’m on shared-use trails so much, I spend a lot of time on trail practicing said etiquette, building community relations, and educating people about trail sharing, so it’s something that’s a pretty big part of my riding (and running) life.

Mile 20, at one of the Usery trailheads, we had another water stop and checkpoint. Junior had done so well in the eating department at the last one that we just stayed here for a couple minutes, long enough to get a drink and to wait for a very large group of hikers to come in off the trail. Back on the trail, this was one of the super-flat, easy sections that eventually ended up at the “Channel” trail — a completely flat, perfect footing trail at the base of a flood control levee. It’s one of the most fun trails for a straightaway canter…and Junior thought so, too.

26bda-028

from a training ride with Mimi, the “Channel” trail…for years, I have longed to canter this trail in a ride setting…got my wish

It was one of those “superbly in sync with the horse” moments…he was locked on to the trail and focused on nothing but moving ahead, I was balanced and super-secure, and we flew down that stretch. So much fun, and I’m pretty sure I was giggling with glee when we finally pulled up and got back on more single-track trail.

And right about this time, the predicted rain caught us. It started as just noticed a spot of water or two on my saddle pommel, and then a couple drops on my arms. So out came the jacket again, and as we made our way closer to camp, the rain started coming down heavier. Apparently getting wet at numerous events in 2017 wasn’t enough…we have to carry the tradition forward into the new year.

Volunteers stationed at all the road crossings made it super safe and easy to get across the roads (3 of them) on the way back to base camp. One last water stop at Prospector Park, just a couple miles from camp. It was raining quite steadily now, and the last couple miles into camp got a bit interesting. Junior threw a mutiny, basically…sulked his way out of the water stop because there was only water there, and no hay, and he decided at that moment he was starving as he tried to grab bites of nasty dry desert vegetation on our way out. He also isn’t a fan of the rain or the cold. I had a rump rug on him, but he still wasn’t amused, and I could also feel him hesitating slightly on one side, especially at the trot when I would post on that right diagonal. Crap. Combination of all those factors = equine mutiny.

I was pretty sure I knew what would happen when we got back to camp, but also had decided that if the vets didn’t pull us, I would…even if the last 20 miles were much easier, and way kinder footing, I’ve ridden Junior enough to know he is not a “pedal” horse…the fact I was having to pedal him, even that close to camp, meant he was telling me in the only way he knew how that he was done for the day.

We pulsed down as soon as we got in to the check, and he was already down to 56, and the vet said he looked phenomenal — all As on metabolics, fantastic gut sounds (those minutes at the stops to let him eat paid off)…but when we trotted out, agreed that there was something on that right front, and it was a more apparent than at vet-in. Given what she saw, and my own feeling, and the fact that, as much as a pull sucks, I would rather be safe than sorry, especially with someone else’s horse, we reached a mutual “He’s pulled” decision. I think the vet was almost as sad as I was, because she commented multiple times on how good he looked otherwise, and his metabolics were amazing.

Meanwhile, it was still raining, so back at the trailer, I did a quick yank of all of Junior’s tack and bundled him up in a couple layers of fleeces and blankets and installed a mash and more hay in front of him while I scuttled around cleaning everything up. Somewhere along the way, the trailer batteries had stopped holding a charge…so if the sun was out, the solar panels provided enough juice to run everything…but since it was raining and completely cloud-covered, the batteries were completely tapped out. Which meant nothing worked (and the carbon monoxide detector was chirping like crazy with its low-power warning)…no water pump, no water heater, no shower…how quickly I’ve gotten spoiled. :)

thumbnail_53817062563__94AF0F3A-B371-4FBC-9A73-AA68F0B214E4

ghetto-blanketing…no neck cover? just add a second blanket and strap it around the neck

Couple all of that with the fact it was still raining, and Junior was standing outside and pouting and shivering, I looked at the clock and figured I had enough time to pack everything up, drive Junior and the rig back to Barb’s, and then drive back to the ride for the rest of the afternoon and for dinner. So that’s what I did. Junior got some more recovery time while I worked on getting everything packed up and wrapped up (why does it take so much longer in the rain to pack everything up?), then I loaded him up and we headed back.

IMG_1519

back home…sun was shining, he was feeling fine enough to chase K-Man around, and he got mash leftovers

Once home, he was feeling good enough to chase K-Man around the pasture and away from the mash leftovers. I got everything unpacked and spread out to dry in the now-shining sun, and all my stuff thrown into my truck, then headed back down to the ride to hang out for the rest of the afternoon. It was so worth coming back for the dinner (homemade Indian fry bread tacos), and it was wonderful to see such a large turnaround stick around for the dinner and awards.

Of course I’m disappointed in the pull (sucks when it’s your own horse, doubly sucks when it’s someone else’s), but I couldn’t be happier with the ride itself. Management was absolutely top-notch, and you would have never known it was a first-time ride. Normally they come with some growing pains and things to be ironed out for subsequent years, but I honestly can’t think of anything I would have changed on this ride. Well, except for maybe the getting rained on part. I loved having a ride so close by, on trails I know so well. This felt like a classic endurance ride — challenging in some areas, and super fun in others. Really hoping it sticks around and becomes part of the regular AZ ride circuit.

Ride Story: Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75

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

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

74154902-2017-Lead-Follow-McDowell-0424

photo: Sue Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

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

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

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

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

IMG_0049

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

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

IMG_0048

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

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

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

IMG_0043

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0054

Just before sunrise.

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

IMG_0056

A beautiful desert sunrise.

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

IMG_0059

Obligatory, “oh, look, rocks!” photo.

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

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

74154901-2017-Lead-Follow-McDowell-0412

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

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

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

IMG_0061

Wagon train heading back in to camp from loop one.

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

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

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

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

IMG_0065

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

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

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

gps.jpg

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

IMG_0068

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

IMG_0070

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

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

IMG_0073

Trotting through a section of staghorn cholla “forest”

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

IMG_0080

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

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

74154903-2017-Lead-Follow-McDowell-0940

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

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

IMG_0083

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

IMG_0087

Snack break along the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0092

Out on loop three by ourselves.

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

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

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

IMG_0095

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

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

IMG_0103

I love my desert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0109

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

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

Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50

So, Man Against Horse happened back in early October…but things definitely didn’t go according to plan, so I’ve had a hard time mustering up the enthusiasm to write about it. Get through all 50 really hard miles…only to get pulled at the finish. I have to say, of all of the pulls I’ve had, this one probably sucks the most.

Short story: Beeba was off at the finish. The vet couldn’t even definitely pick a leg, just that she was “mild but consistently off.” And apparently she looked totally fine in her pasture once she got home later that evening. :/

I’m trying not to let the finish line pull completely cloud the good aspects of the weekend: riding and camping with good friends, some really good learning moments with pacing and smart trail strategy, the gorgeous fall colors on Mingus Mountain, the stunning scenery , and an overall fun time in the saddle.

But still, it stings. For whatever reason, I can feel good about the pull at Virginia City — we tried something hard, got the furthest we’ve ever been, and had a really good experience. This one? There are no good feelings about it. I’ve finished the ride before, she’s finished the ride before. It’s depressing and I’m bummed out about it. Also, to finish all the miles…but to ultimately have it not count for anything? Feels like a double insult.

Plus, a lameness pull makes me second-guess myself. What did I do wrong? Should I have slowed down even more? Done even more than I did on foot? Was it too soon after Virginia City? Should I have even started the ride? Y’know, all the shoulda-could-woulda armchair quarterbacking after the fact. Even a month later, I don’t know what I could have done differently, other than not ride.

It sucks, but we’ve concluded (based on not just these last two rides, but her entire ride history, which has been seriously up and down) that her forte is probably more as a LD/competitive trail horse rather than a 50+ miler. I’m bummed, because I really enjoyed riding her, and I let myself get way too excited and start thinking way too optimistically/far ahead with planning and future scheming.

Anyway, moving on to the ride itself. It basically took a village to make it happen. Kim wasn’t going to be able to ride, but I could still take Beeba, and she would come up and crew. I was able to find a ride for Beeba with a friend…but Barb was going to be working until late Friday afternoon and wasn’t sure when she would actually get to camp. So a convoluted plan was hatched, and despite the fact I felt like a flowchart was needed at times, it all ended up working out really smoothly.

  • Step One: Since Barb is about an hour away from me, and needed to leave for work early Friday morning, the plan was: drive my truck to Barb’s house Thurs night. Put all my ride stuff/food in her trailer, stay at her house overnight.
  • Step Two: Barb takes my truck to work. I load up Barb’s horse and drive her rig to Kim’s. Pick up Beeba. Kim follows in her car and we drive to the ride. Get camp set up and both horses vetted.
  • Step Three: Barb leaves from work Friday afternoon in my truck and drives straight to the ride.
  • Step Four: After the ride, all the stuff gets sorted into our respective vehicles, Barb drops Beeba back off at Kim’s, I drive straight home.

Endurance. It takes a village.

Ok, so we established that I drove the horses up to the ride on Friday. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with rig driving this year, and feel like I’ve earned at least fledgling membership into the “endurance girls who can drive anything” club.

IMG_9773

Piggies!! Javelina (collared peccary) family crossing the “road” into base camp. (Fun fact: Only very vaguely related to pigs.)

Base camp is a big open cow pasture on the Fain Ranch just outside of Prescott — open parking among the rocks and random clumps of cactus. A spot that was free of rocks was cleared, horses got settled, then I spent a couple hours puttering around and socializing before rider check in and then going to vet in.

74034287-2017-ManAgainstHorse-0046

This is kind of fun, because I have virtually no photos of me vetting in at endurance rides. My showmanship and halter upbringing is showing through. (photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

After vetting in, I did a really short pre-ride with Beeba — meandered through camp, socialized along the way. Tried to head out along the finish trail, ended up feeling like I had a red-hot powder-keg under me. Errr, that would be a big old “nope” on that idea, so we walked politely(ish) back to the trailer red mare then got to trot schooling circles until she settled.

IMG_9780

pre-ride, acting fairly calm and innocent

One of the things I miss the most about riding Mimi in competition is her complete lack of explosiveness. She would spook at something, and be done. Interestingly enough, she had that “up” side that tended to appear at shows, especially large ones in new venues. But at distance rides? Never. Plenty of energy, and plenty of wanting to go forward, but I was never concerned about her bucking, rearing, spazzing and dumping me, or other variations of untoward behavior.

Friday evening, a couple dozen of us gathered for one of the “Zonie potlucks.” I’m skeptical of potlucks because so often it turns into everybody bringing a bag of chips or box of cookies and calling it good. Well, Zonies apparently love their food, because there was a glorious spread of main dishes, side dishes, and delicious homemade desserts. Yum. My contribution was a Mexican Street Corn salad, which seemed like a big hit since I only brought home a small amount of leftovers.

Ride briefing went by really quick — it seems like nothing had changed since the last time I had done the ride (2009). I should also add that this is my “anniversary” ride — it was Mimi’s and my first AERC ride back in 2005. We did the LD, and finished, and I’ve been hooked on this sport (despite questioning my sanity sometimes) ever since. 12 years in endurance…but that’s musings for another time and post.

Barb and I took the horses for a final walk around camp to stretch their legs, then retreated back to the warmth of the trailer. I was in bed at a decent time, and the 6:30 ride start meant the alarm was set for early, but not unreasonable.

Ride start nerves were out in full force again Saturday morning, albeit not as bad as at Virginia City. Barb and I waited back at the trailer until the pack cleared out (To recap: it’s an uncontrolled, “shotgun” start [at least they don’t actually fire a gun anymore] that drops through a rocky wash, then opens up through an open field. And you sort of just roughly follow along what used to be an old two-track road but has gotten fairly overgrown. Not a conducive environment for two horses who are not known for having the best start line behavior.

So we waited until a couple minutes after the start, hand-walked over to the start, mounted up, and headed straight out. Since the pack was pretty much out of sight, we were able to pick up a polite trot right away, and that was that. Beeba was settled within the first couple of miles, and she was perfectly happy to trot along behind Barb’s horse K-Man.

We kept it to a nice trot through the sand wash that is basically the first 5 miles of the trail — each year, it gets a little bit shallower and more trottable. By the time we headed out of the wash, we had caught up to the tail-end of the pack, and just kept steadily trotting along, catching and passing people.

IMG_9798

About 7 miles in, through the “rolling plains” section.

About 9 miles in, the trail hits one of my favorite sections: “the grapevine.” It’s roughly 7 miles up to the first vet check, and most of it is winding up through a canyon, twisting and turning in and out along a dry streambed, and then climbing up through manzanita bushes. So pretty, and so fun, especially on a athletic, agile horse.

IMG_9801

psychedelic endurance?

IMG_9808

out of the canyon and up into the manzanita. view is looking towards Prescott and the Bradshaw Mountains in the distance.

IMG_9810

in the manzanita tunnel, only a few miles out from the first vet check

74034290-2017-ManAgainstHorse-0165

at the top of the climb, only about a mile from the check. (photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

The approach into vet check 1, Mingus Springs Camp at mile 16, is about perfect. A downhill onto a two-track road, with lots of space to jump off and lead in.

By the time we walked to the troughs and Beeba drank, she was pulsed down — to 52. Vetted through, and then she set to work remedying those B’s on the gut sounds. In the course of about 20 minutes, she managed to stuff in a whole pan of mash, some hay, and start eyeballing some of the other horses’ mashes.

It was bit of a novelty to have a crew there, and to be able to hand the horse off to Kim and sit quietly and work through my own food cooler. Turkey lunch meat, cheese stick, and pasta salad all disappeared quickly, and then it was time to put the bridle back on, tighten the girth, and mount up, right on our out time.

I had kind of forgotten about parts of the next section — it involves quite a bit of forest road, combined with some sketchier “trails” to get from one road to another. And a lot of rocks. SO many rocks. After VC and this ride, I may have threatened that I didn’t want to see anything but a groomed sand arena for the next several months.

IMG_9816

oh look, more rocks

Parts of this section are really pretty, because it’s at a high enough elevation that there are lots of trees around, and some pleasant shady areas. And once you’re on the roads, there is plenty of area to move out…in between the rocky areas.

IMG_9833

on the long road around Mingus Mountain

IMG_9855

scenic overlook: looking down into the Verde Valley, and to the red rocks of Sedona in the distance

The scenery through this section is amazing, though. It overlooks the whole Verde Valley, and out into the red rocks of Sedona. It’s stunning, and photos barely begin to capture the colors, let alone the feeling of that immense of a view. Just one of the reasons I love this state.

IMG_9853

rode for a while with Cristina and Atti through this section

photo 1

flying

The ride was perfectly timed to catch the changing of the leaves as well. Sometimes when it’s within the first day or two of October, the leaves have barely started changing, but the ride date ended up falling on the 7th this year, and that was late enough to start really seeing the leaves.

IMG_9845

who says Arizona doesn’t have seasons?

Contrary to popular myth, parts of the state actually do have four seasons. The Valley just isn’t one of those parts. But anything that’s higher elevation definitely does.

IMG_9856

water and snack break before the real climbing begins

To get to vet check 2, at the top of Mingus Mountain, there’s a 3-mile climb with an almost-2000′ elevation gain, with some parts through some technical single-track (read: stepping up through/over rocks and boulder on an uphill). It’s hard. It ate our lunches the first time we did this 50, and I hopped off and led Mimi through it the second time around.

IMG_9861

taking a quick breather in the shade

This time, I stayed mounted, but that was a climb that definitely took the wind out of their sails. Beeba was tired, and K-Man experienced his first “I think I met Jesus” moment there on the mountain when he slowed his relentless forward movement and voluntarily stopped to eat. Ah, nothing like a hard ride to teach them how to take care of themselves.

IMG_9864

steep, rocky climb

I honestly don’t remember the climb being that hard, especially the second half. Either I blocked it from my memory…or I never realized just how much of an amazing hill pony Mimi is.

IMG_9885

more climb

IMG_9890

postcards from Arizona

IMG_9882

those radio towers are where we are going

We finally, finally reached the top…there was a checkpoint and water there, and the horses really tanked up. We only stayed there for a couple of minutes, wanting them to keep moving rather than stand around and cramp up. It was a mile of easy service road into the check, and we moseyed, alternating walking and trotting, right into the vet check.

Beeba’s pulse down down, and she vetted through well — one standalone ‘B’ for impulsion, A’s on everything else. Kim had a nice spread set out — sun for the horses, shade for the riders — and we each set to work on our respective food offerings. About 15 minutes into the check, Beeba started shaking, and looked really stiff when Kim walked her. We threw another fleece on her, gave her extra electrolytes, and Kim alternated walking her and letting her graze. Apparently she did the same thing at the check last year with Kim — we weren’t sure if she was tying up, or just cold, because she’s very cold-sensitive, or the post-climb exertion.

Needless to say, that put a major damper on my mood, as I went from “feeling good” to “gut knotted with anxiety.” Kim took Beeba over to the vet and got the “all clear” — her muscles were good, all other parameters were good, pulse was low — so probably just cold/exertion. I was worried about taking her back out, but between the vet’s okay, Kim’s okay, the fact she had done the same thing last year, a decision to really take it slow on the last third, plus me getting off and running, we headed back out again.

74034292-2017-ManAgainstHorse-0637

after vet check 2. cross training? (Photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography)

It’s pretty much “all downhill from here” after vet check 2, and I ended up hopping off and hiking/running any of the longer stretches of downhill. I could not believe how rocky and washed out this section has gotten. This was my absolute favorite part of the trail previously, because it was this smooth, flowing, slightly downhill single track that Mimi just flew down. Now, it was rutted, rocky, and a stumbling walk was the best gait we could hope for in many parts.

Right before we hit vet check three (a pulse/vet/go) I could feel Beeba take some funky steps when we were trotting along the forest road. Nothing I could pinpoint, but felt like there was a bit of a hitch somewhere in her gait. When we got to the check, we took a couple minutes to drink and pulse, then went over to vet. I had to trot her a couple times and the vet said she maybe saw “something” but just take it easy on the way back — which was literally all downhill at this point.

So we hiked out of the check, hit the section of switchbacks down Yaeger Canyon, and hiked and jogged the next several miles down the switchbacks. At the bottom of the canyon (and the last few miles into canyon) I hopped back on, but couldn’t really tell if it had made any difference or not. There was no definitive lameness, but she just didn’t feel 100%.

IMG_9898

Yaeger Canyon on foot

So we moseyed and took it fairly easy back into camp. Shoutout to Barb for being a real awesome riding partner and not ditching me. She certainly could have — K-Man was strong and had plenty of gas in the tank. But I really appreciated her sticking with me to the end.

Coming in to the finish, I was feeling a little hopeful — Beeba wasn’t 100%, but she wasn’t any worse. So maybe we would be okay?

Yeah, not so much. We vetted through right away, but after trotting back and forth a couple times, even yanking the tack and pulling her boots to check for any dirt/stones (nothing), it still wasn’t good enough to pass the vet’s scrutiny. They couldn’t even pinpoint a specific leg, just that she was “off.”

And that’s how I got my first finish line pull.

Barb and K-Man finished, and looked great.

Since it’s a close-by ride, we packed up camp, horses got their legs wrapped and a couple hours of recovery time, then we all hit the road. Beeba came out of the trailer sound back home and moseyed around her turnout looking none the worse for the wear.

Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan, and it kind of put a crimp in future plans. At this point, we’re operating on the theory that Beeba is probably a better LD/competitive trail horse than an endurance horse. These are not her first pulls, and it’s not fair to her, or whoever is riding her, to keep trying to pursue something that she’s probably not optimal for. It’s hard, because I really enjoyed riding her and spending time with her, and if she was my horse and the only option I had to ride (like it was with Mimi), I would probably spend the time and $ seeing if I could make things work. But reality is, she’s not mine, so it’s not my call, and I’m not going to put money into a horse that isn’t mine.

This has certainly been an interesting ride season, that’s for sure. And I say that with the full intent of “interesting” being used in the context of a curse versus a compliment.