Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. :)

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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.

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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: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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psychedelic endurance?

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

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

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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.

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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.

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on the long road around Mingus Mountain

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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.

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rode for a while with Cristina and Atti through this section

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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more climb

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postcards from Arizona

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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.

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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%.

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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.

Peaks and Valleys

First off, I would like to offer an apology for my long absence from blogging, and correspondence in general.

Like the toughest endurance ride, 2010 has been a year of ups and downs for me — and it’s only May.  My absence from blogging is both a long and short explanation.  The short version is that I lost a lot of my enthusiasm and momentum after a disheartening start to the ride season, and before I could regain my footing, my personal life came along and knocked me for another loop.

In trying to deal with life and the turmoil, I’m afraid I’ve very much retreated from one of the things in life that was always my refuge — the horses.  When your refuge is one of those things causing so much discontent and unrest, it becomes difficult to find your balance again.

After many weeks of soul-searching, I feel like I’m finally starting to gain some peace in my life again, and I’m ready to offer an explaination for what has been going on for the past four months.

The best place to start is probably chronologically, which would be at the start of the ride season — the Land of the Sun ride in Wickenburg.  After being postponed and rescheduled due to foul weather and flooding in January, the ride was held in the beginning of February.

The ride started out very nice, but ended for me at 35 miles when I pulled Mimi after she started to tie up.  Rather than typing out the whole explaination again, this is the email I sent to one of the endurance e-mail lists I’m on.

So, I’m sure as most of you saw on Facebook, I pulled from Wickenburg yesterday when Mimi went weird on me at about 35 miles. She had been doing fabulous all day, pulling my arms out in her cheer and enthusiasm during the whole first loop. About 10 miles into the second loop, she really slowed down, to the point where I was having to peddle and cajole her — definitely not normal for her, as she normally is very free-moving, and all it takes is a loosening of the reins to get her to move out at a ride.
Then she stopped to pee, and she peed very dark urine. :((( Never a good sign. We were very close to a water stop at the point, so we proceeded very slowly up to the water. I tried to get her to drink, but she wasn’t interested, so we sat at the water trough with me syringing water into her mouth, making her drink one sip at a time. She also had no interest in food — VERY unusual. Her respiration was super-high, and she her flanks were really tucked-up and doing this weird fluttering thing with her rapid breathing.
Her pulse dropped down to 36 within about five minutes, but then spiked to 44 a couple minutes later. And she just looked very unhappy. She’s not a subtle horse by any stretch of the imagination, and can be a drama queen, so it’s very easy to read her expressions and emotions. And she looked very sad and worried. Her mouth was tight, and her eyes very worried.


With all of those factors combined, I wasn’t going to continue, so I pulled her there. Fortunately, we were at a place where it was very easy to get a trailer in and out, so we loaded up and got the quick shuttle back to camp. When we got back, I had one of the ride vets look at her, and all of her metabolics checked out with all As — good gut sounds, normal hydration, loose muscles.


She never got really tight in the back end, but she did look stiff when we stopped. Both Dad and I walked her out and trotted her in hand after we had been at the water stop for about 15 minutes just to see if she would “snap out of it.” She wasn’t moving as well as she could, especially since her earlier trot-outs at the VCs had been beautiful, so I didn’t think 15 more miles — and the toughest part was still to come for that loop — would do her any favors.


It’s a maddening situation, as I don’t really know what to call it or what she did. I don’t think it was a true tie-up. I think it could have gotten to that if I pushed her. So what do I call that? Pre-tie-up? I’ve been researching my brains out this morning, and I’m no closer to pinning down any one cause.


There’s potentially several factors at play:


-The weather turning cold, windy and rainy as we were heading out for the second loop. She did the same pre-tie-up thing at a Wickenburg NATRC ride about four years ago, but that was within 5 miles of the start, and due to insufficient warmup. However, she’s also done a couple cold, rainy rides since then without a problem.


-Dehydration? She could have drank better overnight (she’s drink better if she didn’t poop in her bushel bucket…grrr…I’m going to start putting out multiple buckets for her at night). She ignored the two water troughs out on the first loop, and didn’t drink until VC1 at 13 miles. Kind of normal, kind of not. She typically drinks within 10 miles. She drank really well at the VC, then again on the way back to camp. At VC2, she drank well as soon as we got in, but didn’t drink at all back at the trailer during the hour hold.


-E’lyte imbalance? I e’lyted her with small doses in the morning before starting, at VC1, and at VC2. It was a breezy, cool day, but they were sweating a lot, especially in the beginning.


-Unaccustomed climbing? There were a lot of ups and downs and hills, but we train in terrain that’s very similar to Wickenburg.


-Fighting me too much? She was feeling really, really good, and just wanted to GO in the first loop, so we spent a lot of time having “discussions” about not pulling my arms out and not running over the steep, rocky ups and downs. Don’t know if she got herself too worked up doing that? She was feeling very competitive and forward. Our last two rides, we’ve had a space bubble since early in the ride, and she was happy to tootle along on a loose rein. This time, we were riding a bit faster, and there was always another horse within visual range. Both she and Beamer were being very competitive, but the trail was such that we had to make time where we could, because of the slow, rocky sections.


-Food at VC? I actually had a crew this time, but I’m wondering if her intentions were too good…in trying to get our ponies to eat, she was plying them with a lot of alfalfa and the ride-offered bran mashes, plus some oat hay. Mimi, being a protein-and-insulin-sensitive pony, is on a limited alfalfa diet, and a no grain diet. My fault for not communicating to our crewperson. I don’t know if something like that could be a contributing factor? Too much protein?


Or maybe it’s something I’m totally missing, or a combination of a lot of factors. I’m going to call my vet and see if he can come out tomorrow and if a blood panel will still be good at that point.

And after the visit from our vet the Monday after the ride:

Well, I got Mimi’s blood panel back from the vet today. Her AST and CK levels are elevated — 3016 for the AST and 8030 for the CK. Everything else falls within the normal range. Per my vet, she did have a tie up episode, but probably a minor one, as her muscles never got tight and crampy.


Best I can figure, after all the theories have been banded about, is that she wasn’t drinking enough and we need to work more on actually drinking at rides.

The vet had several recommendations, but no real answers.  After cogitating on this for the past several months, I think there were a few other factors at play: the six weeks or so leading up to the ride had been very wet and rainy, and they didn’t get out as much as they should have.  Quite frankly, I think it comes down to she was ill-conditioned for the ride and what I was asking of her.

She’s 17 this year (in less than a week, actually!), she’s not an Arab, despite how much she tries to act like one, and because of that, she’s not going to hold her conditioning the way an Arab in their prime (like Beamer) would.  I feel bad, coming to that conclusion, because it puts the blame squarely on my shoulders where it belongs.

It is also leading me to the conclusion that maybe it’s time to retire her from 50s, but that’s another topic for another post, as this one is getting long-winded enough.

The following is the other side of the story — my personal life, something I tend to leave out of this blog for various reasons, mostly because I figure that people come here to read about my adventures with my pony, not listen to me whine.  But I’m going to temporarily lift that moratorium, because that is a major part of what is going on right now.  To anyone that might feel uncomfortable with the subjects, death, dying, and personal religion are going to come up.  Several things have been happening, all kind of at once:

– As everyone knows, the economy sucks right now, and like a lot of people, we’re feeling it, financially.  As such, going to rides isn’t really a feasible thing right now, which is more than a little bit depressing and tends to cut down on one’s motivation to go out and train.  I don’t like admitting to this — never an easy position to be in  — but it’s one of the reasons I’ve not been showing my face around the local rides.  Let’s face it — even though endurance is one of the cheaper equine sports out there, it still costs money.  And ride entry fees aren’t going down.  And with very few truly local rides, travel expenses quickly add up, even to show up and volunteer.

– Right about the time Mimi should have been getting out again,  I came down with pneumonia and spent a couple weeks down for the count, and probably about five weeks away from riding.  Naturally, this would happen at the prettiest time of the year.  It’s been about two and a half months since that happened, and I’m only now starting to feel like I’m recovering.  (Not helped by the worst seasonal allergies I’ve ever had.)

– Finally, I’ve experienced a lot of pain and turmoil in the last couple months that has put me on a path of a lot of questioning and bewilderment, and as a Christian, I’m not proud to admit this, but I’ve spent a lot of time being very angry at God and wondering why all of this is happening. 

First, I lost a dear friend to cancer in March.  She was only 26.  I still can’t understand why someone that young, vibrant, and full of life could be taken so soon.  She fought to the end, and I will forever admire her grace, determination, and positive attitude.  I don’t know if I could have done the same.  She’s my newest guardian angel watching over me, and I’ll always cherish the memory of our friendship and her encouragement.  Miss you, Siobhan, but I know you’re using your performance talent and sense of humor to entertain all the other angels in Heaven right now.

On the heels of this, I just returned from a very difficult trip back to Pennsylvania for one last visit with my grandfather.  He has been fighting a very long, difficult battle with prostate cancer that then moved into bone cancer for the past two years, and about a week ago, his hospice nurse told the family she was giving him maybe two weeks to live.

Despite it being a painful, emotional trip, I’m glad I went.  There’s so much about the situation I’m still confused and angry about, and not even going to begin to try to delve into here.  I’ve got questions that could probably even make theological scholars scratch their heads, but I know they’ll likely always remain unanswered.  The biggest question, of course, that everyone asks is, “Why?”  I haven’t figured that out, and maybe I never will. 

This is also the first grandparent I’m losing, so I feel particularly raw and vulnerable, having been relatively sheltered from the whole notion of death and dying up until now.  I know that the inevitable end is very near now, but I feel a lot more at peace after this trip than I was before I went.

It’s been a lot to take in over the past four months, and I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time wallowing in the valleys, managing to scale a little peak, only to quickly slip down the other side.  Now, I feel like I’m gradually starting to come back again, thay maybe the next slide isn’t going to be all the way to the valley floor again.  There’s that saying, something about “darkest before dawn” that I think is very applicable at the moment.  Things will get better, it just might take a bit more mountain-climbing to get there.

Despite all of this, I have been maintaining Mimi’s bare hooves myself still.  Her feet are looking fabulous, and I’m mroe and more happy with them with each passing month.  I bought a loop hoof knife, which makes trimming her bars a lot easier.  For the first time ever, I was able to take her on several rides entirely barefoot.  Granted, it was only about 6 or 7 miles, with very little trotting, but she was totally sound and comfortable.  Also more on this subject to come, since it’s enough to make a whole seperate post.

Thank you, all of my readers, for hanging in there and listening to my very rollercoaster life.  I can’t promise an immediate turnaround in my blogging habits, but I will say that I aim to try for slightly more regular postings…in other words, no more abandoning you for four months.  :)

A change in perspective

Giving up on a dream hurts, but there are times when discretion really is the better part of valor.

Three weeks ago was the Man Against Horse Endurance Race, a ride that ended up being a serious wakeup call for me. We were pulled by management 40 miles into the ride for being far overtime, and the last 10 miles included a very steep, hazardous decent down off the mountain. So for our own safety (and the convenience of everyone else), a trailer was sent to retrieve us.

It was a ride that solidified one thing in my mind: I will not ask Mimi to compete in Tevis. That pony is 110% heart and go, and I cannot bring myself to push her as hard as it would take to finish Tevis, because I know she would try it, to her own detriment.

The 50 miler at MAH is known for one thing – the 1800′, 3 mile climb up Mingus Mountain. What I didn’t realize is that this climb also entailed a very technical trail involving lots of tight switchbacks, rock climbing, and supreme efforts on the part of the horse to make the climb.

The ride started out well…at the starting line, at least. We headed out of the heels of the pack, but Beamer was a powder keg, ready to explode. He perfected a mincing, 3 mph trot going down the trail, more interested in going up than forward. And just about the time he’d get going, he’d spook. And we couldn’t put Mimi in front, because he would just die if he had to cover our flank, the boogie man might jump up and grab his haunches. *sigh* So the part that we should have been making decent time at, we were crawling.

And by the time he settled down, Dad was already worn out and couldn’t sustain a trot for more than a couple minutes. Meanwhile, pony hasn’t been a picnic for me, mostly because she was so pissed at being held back so sssssssllloooooowwwwwwllllyyyyy. So my shoulders and legs were feeling it, too. Again, time slipped away from us in an area that we should have been using to make time.

The front running 25ers caught up with us going up the Grapevine hill, about 10 miles into the ride. Unfortunately, this was one of my major complaints about the ride. Several of the 25ers were very rude and obnoxious in this section, trying to pass us. It is a very narrow, winding trail, and there’s not many places to pull off, and they were not very patient in allowing us to do that. Just because my horse doesn’t wear a red ribbon doesn’t mean you can run right up her tail end. One lady did just that, and I am so proud of Mimi for not kicking, when she was being crowded from behind with nowhere to go.

And then a group of half a dozen riders passed us very quickly when we pulled off, and really upset Beamer. If it hadn’t been for Mimi’s stability, and him backing into her, I’m not sure what would have happened, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. Does it really take that long to slow down to a slow trot or walk when passing in tricky terrain?

The vet check was without incident…Mimi flew through with all As, and the lowest pulse they had seen all day. Dropped to 48 within a minute of coming in. Clearly, we weren’t pushing them. Unfortunately, we paid for it, time-wise, in the end, but I can rest a bit easier knowing that I wasn’t pushing her too hard.

Up to the 16 miles check, the trail was the same as the 25 I had done here the 3 previous years, but it split right after the check. Mimi was quite excited about the new trail. Beamer slowed down even more. The new section was really pretty, and we started climbing even more. There was one phenomenally beautiful section, a single-track trail that ran alongside a small stream, with green grass all around and pine trees. Unfortunately, I was too busy actively riding to get pictures.

The pretty little single track soon ended, and turned into what ultimately would be about 10 miles of hardpack, rocky, doubletrack road. The views were amazing…the clouds had been coming in all day, and it was grey and overcast, and amazingly windy. I had to keep reaching back to fix Mimi’s rump rug (she wore it most of it day, it was so chilly) because it kept blowing off. And I have one with weighted corners. The oak trees were changing colors, so there were patches of vivid red and orange leaves that would show up on the side of a mountain.

At one ppoint, we could look out and see the red rocks of Sedona. And the storm clouds that were moving in. About 5 miles into this road, the skies opened up and we started getting rained on. Fortunately not pouring rain, but not a light drizzle, either. Between the road, and the rain, I felt like we had been out there forever without getting anywhere. That road just kept going, and it was hardpacked enough that it dissuaded us from going too fast on it. And it was rocky enough that we had to walk section of it. And Beamer was spooking. And we fell further behind in time.

Finally, we got to “The Climb,” as it is known. Fortunately, it was no longer actively raining, but the rain had left the trails wet, and a little bit slick. We were maybe a mile, a little less, into the climb, Mimi and I were leading, when I had what has been the closest I’ve ever come to having a really bad wreck on a horse. The trail was a sharp switchback leading into an uphill jump and short, steep climb. Mimi went around the switchback, but slipped a bit on the wet trail, and didn’t have the momentum to finish the climb. She tried to make the jump up, but she was thrown off balance from her slip, and started sliding backwards down the trail. Beamer was right behind us, and he couldn’t go anywhere. She stopped, and I had to bail, climb up, practically on hands and knees, up the trail, then clear out far enough for her to make the climb on her own.

We then spent a good ten minutes relearning how to breathe. Note: panic attacks at 7200′ elevation are not a good idea. It’s very, very tough to breathe. Beamer made it up fine, Dad jumped off as a precaution. I walked a little bit further, but I was still having major issues with trying to breathe (elevation and I aren’t really a good mix), so I eventually crawled back on the pony, who was still bright-eyed and looked none the worse for our near-disaster.

It was at this point that Dad and I were about done. We couldn’t make up any time, we had no idea how tough the trail was going to be, we felt like we were woefully underprepared for the difficulty of the ride, and we didn’t want to put the ponies through any more. Unfortunately, the only way to go was up, to the vet check. So we did, at a very abbreviated pace, enjoying the scenery, letting the ponies take their time to negotiate the tricky stuff. We thought we were through the worst of it…NOT! There were parts that involved jumping over and between rocks, on a narrow, singletrack trail. I was so emotionally and physically wrung out by the time I reached the vet check that I just wanted to collapse. We figured we’d never make it back in time, but the volunteers convinced us to at least vet the horses through…again, something like a 48 on pulse and A on everything except a B on gut sounds said that Mimi was still feeling good, even though her rider was trashed.

We were eventually convinced to keep going, at least to the next vet stop, which was easier to reach with a trailer . So we did. Mimi about leapt out onto the trail…I pointed and clicked to her , hoping for a nice walk…I got Power Trot. So she was still feeling great. Beamer was more sluggish, but he was keeping up fairly respectably.

We got down the the next checkpoint…some really pretty single-track trails through the forest…where they told us that management was sending a trailer, because we wouldn’t make it back in time. I was crushed. I had already quit in my head once, and then been talked out of it, convinced I could finish, and nwo to be told that I didn’t have the option to even try? Majorly disappointing. Looking back, I know we never would have finished in time, or anywhere close, but at the time, it really pissed me off. So we kept going down the road (more doubletrack, hardpack dirt road…ugh) where we’d eventually meet up with the trailer.

We got back to camp just fine, the chauffered method. Both ponies were starving when we got back. We were wiped out, and we missed dinner. :( At least I had leftover pasta from Friday night to reheat. And then I crashed. I was a bad mommy and didn’t do anything to Mimi’s legs other than splash some Sore-No-More on them. The next morning, she was quite stocked up, but perfectly sound, and very bright-eyed and more than willing to boogie around camp, goign from water trough to water trough.

Beamer went lame overnight. :(

I heard, and Dad told me he heard the same thing, a loud banging on Beamer’s side of the trailer, so I wonder if he laid down and then whacked his leg when he got up. It was sore and puffy right above his fetlock, but it didn’t seem to be a soft tissue thing. He seems to be fine now, but was sore for about a week. Mimi’s windpuffs finally went down, almost 3 weeks later.

The weekend after the ride, I escaped to San Diego for a vacation and some well-needed thinking time. There’s something about the beach that gives me a lot of perspective, and going out there was a great motivator for getting through school, because that’s ultimately where I want to move to is San Diego. One of my best friends lives out there, and I essentially have a job out there, as soon as I finish school.

I’ve coem to the conclusion that I need to step back from distance riding, and I most definitely will not be doing Tevis on Mimi. She showed me she will do anything I ask her to, regardless of the wear and tear on herself. I have to be the better person and say, “No, enough is enough.” I’d rather have her around for the next ten years, doing smaller rides, than break her over one big ride.

So I am most definitely NOT quitting, but I am stepping back, back down to LDs. It won’t take up quite as much of my time as conditioning for 50s does, it’s a little bit cheaper, and they’re easier on Mimi. I don’t ride 25s fast, I do them just to finish, a nice 6mph pace, typically. So in that sense, it won’t be as much wear and tear on her as doing 50 miles. And it’s less mental stress on me, because I constantly worry about her during 50s, whereas I know she can easily do 25s.

Doing this will allow me to really focus on school right now, which needs to be my first priority. The faster I get through school and start working, the faster I can afford a second endurance horse, one that will be my 50-miler, 100-miler, and Tevis horse.

Temporarily giving up Tevis hurts, but permanently giving up my pony would hurt a lot worse. I’ve anguished over this a lot in the past several weeks, but I’m clear-eyed now as I write this. I know I’ve made the right decision.

A couple good things did come out of the ride: I got my Renegades custom fit by Kirt Lander. He poured an Equithane insert into the sides of the boots, custom fitting them to Mimi’s hooves. They did fantastic through the whole ride, no rubs, no straps coming undone, no problems!!! And our slip on the mountain would have been a lot worse without the boots! And second, I got the world’s wildest, most obnoxious day-glo yellow-lime green ride shirt. I love it. :)

We live and we learn. You don’t know you can’t do something until you try it. This ride told me a lot of what I needed to know, without the expense and risk of Tevis, and I can rest easy with my decision.

That’s probably it for me for 2008…I’ll be out of town at the time of the McDowell Mountain ride, and I’ll still be in school during the Sonoita ride, and I’ve already missed enough days this semester. So I’ll see everyone in 2009, most likely at Land of the Sun. Until then, I’ll still keep riding and training, exploring new trails, and embracing my fuzzy psychologist/psychiatrist!

Williams/Devil Dog

Here’s the deal: I’ve been trying for a week to write up this ride story, and it just isn’t going to happen. The short story is, we had an off weekend, a very off weekend that resulting in pulling at the first VC, 13 (or so…) miles into the ride.

Things that contributed:

– Friday morning, I fell out of the back of the trailer. I stepped down into a hole, my foot landed on a rock, and I sprained/bruised my foot and ankle. A week later, I’m still hobbling. Ironically enough, I could still ride, although ceaseless walking started to create something of a gnawing pain in my foot. Trotting was good, though. I could still trot, and post.

– The bugs at the ride were horrid. Nasty litte spawn-of-Satan no-see-ums that greatly enjoyed feasting on my pony, whose threshold tolerance for bugs is notoriously low. She was miserable, and it really threw her off, to the point where she wasn’t eating very enthusiastically, and wasn’t drinking at all Froday night. Very worrisome.

– The one and only time I’ve ever had a problem with my Renegades. About 3 miles into the ride, the cables broke on the side of the boot. A very odd, normally protected place, so I can’t figure out what happened. And as these were my first pair of 00 boots, I didn’t have any backups. I had a backup 0 I was carrying with me, but Mimi was jumping around so badly due to the bugs, that neither Dad nor myself could safely wrestle her into submission long enough to put the boot on.

We decided to keep going, walk the rough stuff and trot the smooth. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much smooth to trot, and we kept getting further and further behind on time. The 50 miler was to be a repeat loop…a 25 mile loop with an out vetcheck halfway, come back into camp for another vetcheck, then lather-rinse-repeat for the second loop. Well, the more we saw of the loop, the less impressed we were about the idea of repeating it.

The final straw was the several miles of “Dustbowl” trail…an old logging road covered in ~8″ of fine, silty dust that hid large rocks or soft depressions in the ground. Mimi almost going to her knees 5 times in 5 minutes had me throwing my hands up and proclaiming that I was done. She wasn’t focused, the bugs were making her miserable, and her tripping and lack of focus was starting to scare me at that point.

So we straggled into the vet check and pulled. Gah, that was depressing.

Only slightly more cheer-making was when a good portion of the 50s pulled halfway, opting for LD completion credit, rather than heading out for round two of that trail. The majority of people didn’t want to subejct their horses – or themselves – to that again.

I understand that quite a few people got lost and off trail after the vet check. Is it a good thing when people tell you, “be glad you pulled when you did”? Or when you’re told that this ride made the notoriously-difficult Man vs. Horse 50 look easy? Well, in that case, we should be all set for the fall then. Urgh.

So on one hand, I’m very bummed, and still very pissed at myself for how I handled the weekend. I wasn’t in the best frame of mind, and I really let it get to me, unfortunately. Maybe if I had been 100%, and Mimi had been 100%, we might have been fine. Maybe I pull too easy from rides. All I know is, I’m already working at a disadvantage when it comes to the horse I have available to me for distance. Mimi isn’t the best candidate, physically, but her mental toughness has already overcome a host of issues. But even tough little go-ponies have off days. Unfortunately, last weekend was one of them. :( But I keep working with her, because I can’t afford another horse, and I refuse to give her up. Heck, with the exception of my best friend, I’ve had Mimi for longer than I’ve known my friends. After 12 years, we’re family.

The weather was lovely, though…a nice break from the 110*+ oven. Low to mid 80s during the day, high 40s at night…lovely!

And it was wonderful seeing endurance friends again…there’s always new goodies to be had from Michael and Julia Elias with Horses Dacor (love the new sponge, guys, thanks!)…meeting Patty Danley’s new mare Shelley and starting the ride with them…she’s a lovely mare, Patty…you’ve got yourself another good one!

All in all, even though the ride pretty much sucked, it felt good to get away for a few days. Even if I did spend half of them in tears. Apologies to anyone that might have seen me acting somewhat out-of-character. My horse wasn’t at the top of her game, but apparently I wasn’t either. :

Now it’s back to the oven…did a short ride this morning, and the ponies were happy to get out!