Ride Story: Virginia City 100

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photo by Gore-Baylor Photography

I still don’t know the exact clear, concise words to use to describe my Virginia City experience, other than there will be a lot of them. It was an absolutely amazing adventure, with highs and lows, and enough “highlight” moments seared in my brain to last a really long time.

Long story short: We did get pulled at 76 miles. We were overtime to be able to make it through the last loop in enough time, but Beeba was also off on the right hind at the trot. We went in knowing that a finish was an extremely tall order: it was the first 100 for both myself and Beeba, and we had picked a notoriously difficult 100. Nothing like a challenge, right?

It ended up being one of the most amazing ride experiences to date. I am completely in love with the “over 50” distance; had we had the time and been cleared to go, I would have been completely ready to tackle that last loop.

Advice that I got from a friend for doing 100s was “start with a horse you really like spending time with.” That was certainly the case with Beeba. Three conditioning rides ahead of time had me firmly convinced I liked the mare; after 76 miles and a ride environment, that relationship is solidified even more. Maybe I’m just drawn to horses with “interesting” personalities, but some of my favorites in my life have been mares with very strong personalities.

I’ve long-suspected that I would enjoy 100s — that was the main goal when I got into endurance, after all, but sometimes the reality ends up being different than the expectation. Well, I loved it. We didn’t get the full 100 miles (yet!), but I loved the mentality of even being entered in a hundred. On a ride that is a “standalone” 100 like Tevis or Virginia City, there is a different vibe than a multi-distance ride. Endurance is already a small group, but the world of 100-milers feels even more special, like you’re a part of something really unique. I’ve been on the periphery of that vibe with the number of times I’ve crewed Tevis, but standing there listening to the ride meeting as one of the riders was really something else. It’s taken me over 10 years in the sport, but I feel like I really found my niche with this distance. It’s like every fiber of my being was screaming “This is why you’ve been doing this for the past decade!

There’s also a different mentality that happens during the ride. When I’m doing an LD, 25 miles kind of seems like “huh, that’s a bit of a ways.” But 25 miles was our first vet check, and when we hit it, it didn’t seem like it was that long. Same with going out on the second loop after 51 miles. Normally I’m used to being done at 50, so around 46 miles, I start thinking “almost done” or “are we done yet?”. This time, I didn’t feel that same mental fatigue…I felt like I was definitely in the right “head space” for tackling a hundred.

There is no question that VC is a very challenging ride. This year in particular was especially challenging — an extremely wet winter took a toll on the trail, leaving behind a lot of erosion and even more rocks than normal. Multiple time finishers concurred afterwards that this was the toughest they’ve seen the trail in recent history. So I feel extremely good about getting as far as we did, and like everyone said, we did the hard part.

A week-long adventure makes for one heck of a story, so this’ll probably be a bit long-winded and disjointed as I try to gather my thoughts together into something of a cohesive fashion.

If you missed the earlier blog posts about the subject, my Virginia City story started with the offer from my friend Kim to take her mare to the ride. Kim was already planning to go to the ride, and offered to take her mare Beeba along if I wanted to ride. The mare hadn’t done a 100, and as Kim put it, “The stars will all have to align for her to finish” but she was available if I was interested.

Actually, back up a little bit: the whole idea of riding VC started percolating at Tevis this year. Since it was the 50th anniversary, excitement was already running high for it, and the Sunday after Tevis, Lucy started dropping hints at the awards banquet about how I should see if I could ride it this year (actually, a little less subtle than hints…she was straight out farming me out to people who might have an extra horse, or know someone with an extra horse…).

Anyway, whatever vibes she put out there must have worked, because it was that next week after I got back from Tevis that I got the offer from Kim. And so the adventure began. We had about a month before VC, so I was able to get three good training rides in on Beeba. I  enjoyed riding her right from the get-go, since, although she’s got an attitude (“chestnut mare”), she’s sensible and not spooky, which are the kind of horses I get along with the best.

Since Virginia City is a good 900 miles from Phoenix, we were splitting the drive into two days, as well as adding an extra day in there to give the horses some more recovery time. We were also going to be participating in a research study in conjunction with the ride on dehydration and weight loss in endurance horses — horses were to be weighed within a couple of days before leaving home, then weighed upon arrival to the ride, and then throughout the ride at all the major vet checks, and then at the end. It was really fascinating to see the numbers fluctuate, and once the results are emailed to us, I’ll do a separate blog post about the subject.

Our small caravan (Kim, her husband Garry [crew], and myself had the 3 horses: Nort [Kim], Beeba [me], and Lily [Andrea]; Andrea [the third rider in our group] and her husband Mike [crew], and their 3 dogs had all of the hay and extra gear in their trailer so that the 3 horses could travel together) left Tuesday morning, on the road by 7.

(Leaving was not without some drama on my end first: Mimi colicked Monday night, and I ended up having to bring the vet out Tuesday [coordinating all of this while I’m on the road] to clear up what was a minor impaction…she was all good by Tuesday evening, but that was some major stress and anxiety for me most of the day Tuesday.)

We drove about 9 hours to our first overnight stop in Tonopah, NV. There’s a nice rodeo grounds on the outskirts of the town, so we were able to turn the horses out in the arena for a leg stretch several times, and they had nice stalls to overnight in. It was also close enough to be able to unhitch the truck and make a grocery run into town. Some weather blew in during the evening, and we had off and on thunderstorms all night long.

Hmmm. My weather curse apparently *hasn’t* broken yet. Might as well resign myself to getting rained on at some point at every significant event I do this year.

Wednesday was a shorter drive, about 5 hours up to Washoe Lake State Park, only about 30 minutes away from ridecamp. Camp didn’t open until 2pm Thursday, so this was as close as we could get while still getting that extra recovery day. Washoe has a great horse camp set-up, though — we had a couple of covered stalls, plus another arena to turn them out.

Once we got the horses settled, we made a quick run into town (Carson City) to the Tractor Supply Company for a few forgotten items (kind of digging this whole “nearby conveniences” thing on this trip), and by the time we got back to Washoe, a major storm was blowing in. And by major, I mean about an inch and half of rain in less than a couple hours, bean-sized hail, thunder, lightning, and apparently some mini-tornados closer up to Reno. Eek.

I also had some concerns about the moisture levels in the stalls; the sheer volume of water meant water was coming into the stalls, and they were standing in puddles. Soft, wet hooves…another concern for both gluing boots as well as all the rocks. Oh, well. Nothing to do but dump shavings in the stall once the rain stopped and hope things dried out.

Thursday morning we killed some extra time with ride “housekeeping” items — glowsticks on breastcollars, saddle packs filled, etc., before we loaded back up and headed over to the ride. Up to this point, I felt like I was on a relaxing horse camping vacation. I was also working, but even with that, I still had some relaxation and down time, which was probably a really good thing for my mental state.

We pulled into camp just a few minutes before 2, and were given a very choice spot close to the middle of everything. (Okay, so *everything* is close at the Ice House parking…it’s a very “cozy” ridecamp and there is some creative parking involved.) Ridecamp is literally right in town — you end up riding through town several times, and the start is on Main Street, in front of the Delta Saloon. (Start at a saloon, end at a cemetery…there’s got to be some kind of humorous tagline and/or life lesson out of that, right?)

The Ice House base camp is just that — the old ice storage house from when Virginia City was in its heyday as a mining town. It’s now used by the county as a storage lot for gravel and asphalt grindings piles, so it’s pretty rocky/gravelly footing. We got camp set up and the horses settled in, and got our arrival weights done on the horses.  After eyeballing the gravel, I decided to glue boots on then instead of having Beeba stand around on the rocks all night.

I’ll do a whole separate post on gluing protocol for those that are interested, but suffice to say…I got the job done. It wasn’t gorgeous, but those suckers stayed on.

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Boots on. And only a few dozen bad words were uttered.

Once gluing was over and done with, I was able to relax a bit more — one more stressful thing checked off the list. Camp was already filling up by Thursday evening, and they started sending larger rigs down to the overflow parking at the rodeo grounds, and by Friday morning, they managed to shoehorn in a couple more rigs at Ice House, and then everyone else got sent down to the overflow lot. (Normal years, this ride sees maybe 40-45 riders. This year, they started 70!)

Thursday night dinner was a fun affair — Kaity was also riding, so we made arrangements to join forces and do dinner that evening. She made chicken fajitas, we took care of sides, and had a wonderful group dinner.

Friday morning was a leisurely hang-out in camp. Kim and Garry made a supply run, and I hung out with the horses and socialized — a number of friends were at the ride, so it was really good to be able to have a couple hours of relaxed conversation. Normally I’m used to getting to camp and scurrying around like a cracked-out ferret trying to get stuff done, so to be this relaxed and together was a bit of a novel concept to me. The biggest ride challenge I’ve tackled to date, and I was still surprisingly chill about the whole thing.

Andrea also had Cristina come in as crew, so we spent some time catching up, as well as going over some overall crew logistics for all of us.

Once Kim got back, we saddled up and headed out through town for a pre-ride to be able to see at least the first couple of miles we would be riding in the dark. And that’s when things fell apart a little bit. The horses were actually doing really well for the first bit through town, but then things started escalating  — construction air guns hissing, children at recess running and screaming, the train whistle going off, the school alarm going off. The horses started getting more and more amped up, and so we all hopped off and walked the next mile or so to the edge of town where we got back on and rode out another mile or so on the trail and then back-tracked. Once we hit pavement, I hopped off again and walked most of the way through town until we got back to the familiar streets around camp we had hand-walked several times, so was comfortable enough to get back on and ride back into camp.

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Heading out to pre-ride. L to R: me, Kim, Andrea

Hmmm. Not the most auspicious pre-ride. Not sure how this was going to bode for the start. Granted, at 5am on a Saturday there wasn’t going to be construction, or screaming children. But still…consider my ride nerves officially activated.

But I did my best to not think about that, and instead concentrated on what needed to be done that afternoon – once we were back to camp and had the horses untacked, they had rider check-in set up, so we wandered over and grabbed our packets, and went back to the trailer to examine our goodies. They had some great ride sponsors this year, and we ended up with some nice coupons, some samples of Hammer products, and a sample of Squirrel’s Nut Butter, which, contrary to how the name may sound, is not for spreading on your morning toast.

Vetting was supposed to start at 3, but unfortunately both of the vets were delayed and it wasn’t until a little after 5 that we ended up being able to vet in. Normally this kind of thing really stresses me out and throws me and my carefully coordinated planning into a tailspin, since delays tend to have a trickle-down effect…meaning dinner would be later, and ride meeting later, and bedtime later. I know I was a little bit stressed/anxious/annoyed at this point, but actually shook it off pretty fast…not like there was anything I could do to control the situation, and stressing about it would just waste valuable energy.

Once vetting starting, we scuttled over to get in line (advantage of being parked close), and only had to stand around for 15 minutes or so. Beeba vetted in beautifully – stood politely, trotted in-hand well. I found it interesting she had a couple of B’s on gut sounds, especially when she had been stuffing food in all day long.

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Waiting in line to vet. Photo by Lucy Trumbull

The ride offered an option to buy dinner Friday night, which always makes me happy. Whenever a ride offers me the chance to buy a meal, I do so, since that’s one less thing for me to cook/clean up after. They had really yummy smoked tri-tip (or chicken) and sides, and I’m a sucker for a good tri-tip.

Between dinner and ride meeting, we scuttled over to throw another layer of blankets on the horses. Desert rats (especially Beeba) weren’t too fond of the cold, so we ended up double-blanketing them most nights. Right about the time we were blanketing, everybody picked up and migrated from the outside dinner tables to inside the Ice House for the ride meeting, and we ended up packed in there tighter than sardines. (70 riders plus their crew and associated persons make for very crowded conditions…I actually want to come back on a non-anniversary year just to experience the “normal” ride conditions.)

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Sardined riders. Yours truly is up against the wall, snuggled next to the stove pipe (no, it wasn’t lit) in the purple hoodie and pink/orange puffy jacket.

Briefing was highly entertaining – the NASTR club really knows how to have a good time and the pride and joy they have in their rides really shines through. We got a really good description of the trail, as well as tidbits and insight into good natural water sources that would be out there this year. Head vet Jamie Kerr got up and gave us our vet check parameters for the holds, as well as spent time reiterating the importance of hydration in our horses.

Major takeaway: 30 swallows = 1 gallon, so when you’re at a water source, count those swallows and know how much your horse is taking in. He emphasized this several times, and it is one of those tidbits that is now stuck in my brain. It was also really useful out there on the trail – there’s quite a bit of peace of mind that comes from the surety of knowing “my horse just drank a gallon and half at that stop” versus “well, I think they drank pretty well???”.

After the ride meeting was the Calcutta, which apparently auctions off riders and people bid on the riders finishing high up in their weight class. Or something like that. I was a little fuzzy on the details when it was explained to me ahead of time, and I didn’t stick around for it – I was way more interested in getting to bed early.

We checked the horses’ food and water for the night, then hustled off to bed; I’m pretty sure I actually managed to be in bed by 9. 3AM rolled around way too fast, but I actually managed some pretty good sleep for the night before a ride and was technically up before my alarm (which was set for 3:15).

I got dressed, got coffee made, and sat down and slowly tried to gag down a bit of breakfast. It was a relief to finally just get up and go out to tack up. As I was tacking up, Lucy came over to give me a hug and a bit of early morning moral support. Beeba was being a squirmy wiggle worm as usual for tacking up, so it was useful having an extra hand for a couple minutes. Lucy’s been a huge part of my endurance journey, especially towards 100-milers, so that quick morning visit meant a lot to me and was a huge morale booster. Ride nerves had started taking hold, and the specter of the ride start loomed large.

We did a quick “start weight” of the horses on the scale, then gathered together and started walking towards the start about 4:30. Andrea was mounted and Lily was being a saint. Kim and I were both hand-walking. A little ways out from camp, Kim swung up on Nort, but unfortunately I just don’t have “fast mounting” down as one of my appreciable skills, and I basically would have held the other two up waiting for me to gather myself together and get on…so I kept hand-walking.

Beeba was getting pretty prancey as we were walking – we were getting passed by other people, and she just wanted to walk out at her really fast flat walk…but that would have put her ahead of our other two, and the whole point was to try to keep Nort especially under wraps. So I kept getting more and more intimidated as Beeba kept getting more wound up. Finally Cristina offered to walk Beeba for me, and after a moment of warring with my pride and ego, I handed the mare over and dropped back to try to gather myself together. I was really stressed out at this point – crying because I couldn’t get it together, mad at myself for not being braver, and frustrated about how easily I transfer emotions to horses – I was turning a normally calm horse into a ball of nerves with my emotions, because as soon as I handed her over to Cristina, she started walking out calmly.

Kim’s husband Garry was a solid rock for me at that point. He hung back with me, talked me through my emotional fit, and got me calmed down and re-centered. By the time we reached Main Street, I was feeling much more put together, enough so that he and Cristina held Beeba and I was able to swing aboard. We did a couple walking circles, and then the ride started.

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Getting ready to mount up at the start.

We were towards the back of the pack, and everyone was calmly walking out of town. As soon as I mounted, Beeba had settled down, and she was happily walking out, just as curious as I was about this novel and unique ride start. I chattered to her, pointing out different historic sites and saloons, mostly as a way to keep myself calm (you have to breathe to be able to chatter). This was, hands down, the most unique ride start ever, and absolutely magical. With the roads closed down, and everything lit by the soft glow of streetlights, it’s not hard to imagine back a couple hundred years to miners and prospectors walking or riding these same streets, in front of these same buildings.

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We walked a good part of the way through town, then turned off and dropped down a couple street levels to go past the cemetery and out onto the trail. This was what we had pre-ridden the previous day, so we able to pick up a slow trot. There were a few spots that had some trail wash-out and erosion, and management did a great job of marking the spots to avoid with blinking red hazard flashers.

We were a few miles in, starting to climb up to Sign Hill, when Andrea’s mare mis-stepped when passing from one trail track to another and stumbled, going to her knees and sending Andrea over her shoulder into the ditch in front of her. That’s always a scary moment when you have a rider off, in the dark, with horses behind you, in a trail area that has maybe 12” of passing space. Fortunately Lily is a saint who stood like a rock, Andrea was able to get back on, and we continued on our way.

The short climb up Sign Hill tops off at the highway, then drops down a steep embankment, and opens up onto a wide road (with dirt shoulder) that turns into a nice open dirt road. We made it down the embankment without incident (it’s steep enough to be potentially very *exciting* to a horse that’s a bit wound up) and once we hit the road, were finally able to let the horses really move out.  Beeba and I had our one and only “discussion” of the ride at this point, as she really wanted to move out, and I thought a dull roar was a bit more prudent, as it had lightened up just enough to see that the road did have some ruts and dips along the way.

She tossed her head, I growled at her. Another head toss, I made threats of a martingale for the future. It continued this way for the several miles we were on the road, but considering she wasn’t even trying too hard to dislocate my shoulders, I chalked it up as more of a minor annoyance than major problem.

We turned off the main road onto a wash that cut up to another road – “road” being a bit generous in definition, as it had a pretty impressive layer of rocks overlaying it. And so began the “hmm, if a hoof can fit in between the rocks, we should be trotting it” concept. This road took us up into the Virginia Highlands, and we wove through different streets and up and down some hills (got off to run a steeper downhill, discovered Beeba is a great running partner), past the volunteer fire station that’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere, and up and around the whole northern part of the Highlands.

I have no pictures through this section because the cold had zapped my phone — went to take pics and it was all “No Battery Life.” Lame. Zombie!Phone came back to life once it warmed up a bit, by mile 19, so I was able to get pics later.

A very nice homeowner had put out a trough in their front yard around mile 15, and the horses tanked up here while we gave very appreciative thanks to the homeowners, who were out spectating on their front porch. There had been water earlier (a trough at mile 4, plus a natural stream crossing about 10 miles in) but this was the first one Beeba decided was acceptable…and then she started tanking up at every water source from hereon after.

Got the scenic tour of more of the Highlands via dirt/gravel roads, and wound our way down to the highway crossing at 19 miles. There was another water trough there that we stopped at there before we did the trot-by, and Beeba started to drink well, only to be interrupted by a lady coming up and letting her horse barge in and snarl at everyone. Fortunately Beeba returned to drinking after the horse moved off, but that was a major annoyance.

Did our mounted trot-by, all were cleared to go, then we scuttled across the highway and headed down the Toll Rd, passing photographer Rene Baylor on the way. (The top pic was at this point as well.)

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photo by Gore-Baylor Photography

Once the road started descending (it’s about 2 miles down), I hopped off and started running with Beeba. Of course now that the sun was up, I quickly started warming up in my layers, so I pulled off probably one of my most impressive multi-tasking efforts to date. While still running, I managed to: hold the horse, remove my water pack, strip off my jacket, replace the water pack, and tie my jacket around my waist. All without falling or tripping.  The steeper or more rutted out parts of the road, we walked, but otherwise we were running. Beeba again proved to be a wonderful running partner, staying either right behind me or with her head at my shoulder, on a loose lead, matching her pace with mine.

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hoofing it down Toll Rd

Once the road leveled out a little bit, I hopped back on and we did the rest of the grade at a trot, making our way past the turnoff for Bailey Canyon (we’d be back here after the vet check), and into the residential area that would take us to the first vet check – a 45 minute hold at Kivett Lane.

Coming down Toll Rd; photos by Sanne Steele

This was the flattest trail we had seen for the last number of miles, and it felt really good to let the horses move out on flat ground at a good trot. There was a little creek running right through one of the streets, so all of the horses stopped and had a really good drink – perfect timing, not too far out from the check. Beeba and I ended up out in front through the residential area, and we had a few moments of “Arabian pinball” as we zigged and zagged past some spooky residential happenings…but I employed the “faster you go, the faster you get past the scary object” methodology, and we made really good time into the check.

It was a bit of an adrenaline rush coming into the check – that was probably the most intense 25 miles I had ridden, and during it, I felt very “in the zone” but coming into the vet check was definitely a “holy wow, what was that?” moment. It was really good to see smiling, friendly faces that I knew, and to get a few cheers and waves as I came in.

I took Beeba over to the trough to get a drink and get her pulsed. I had no idea where she was at – I basically knew “she pulses really well” from what Kim had told me ahead of time. The pulse checker had just started taking her pulse when Lily reached out across the water trough and bit Beeba right on the face. She was really startled, but all she did was jump in place – and she still pulsed in right at 60, even though the pulse-taker said she spiked right when he was pulsing her. (So who knows how low she was at that point? Ah, well, 60 was the parameter, that’s what we were at, so that’s all I cared about.)

Whisked her right over to the vet, where she proceed to stun all around her with a CRI score of 56/40. Yes, really. The same B’s on a couple of gut sounds, and A’s on everything else. Hopped over to the scale to get a quick weight, and then we made our way over to the crew area Garry had set up.

 

I am so not used to having a crew, so it was a major novelty to have the horse taken from me, and be pointed in the direction of food, drink, and a chair. I had done some good snacking and hydrating on the trail, so topped off my hydration pack, re-filled a water bottle, re-filled my snacks, and then sat down with breakfast.

We actually went into the ride with a small rub in front of Beeba’s girth – a small spot of pink skin that wasn’t in direct contact with the girth, and of unknown origin. But how would all of the downhill we were doing end up impacting it? So far, so good. Slathered it with more Cowboy Magic, rolled up her rump rug, attached a scoop and sponge to the saddle, electrolyted, and then it was time to mount up and head out, right on our out-time.

Back through the residential area, with a stop at the stream to drink again (despite tanking up well at the check…yay!), then re-traced our steps up to the Bailey Canyon turnoff.

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making our way to Bailey Canyon

I had heard stories and seen a few pictures of Bailey Canyon. I knew it was rocky. I knew it took an hour to get through whether you were fast or slow.

Well, I prepared myself for the worst, and was ready for an hour+ of misery. What I got was actually quite a bit of fun. I wasn’t too sure at the start of Bailey, when we did a bit of ribbon-to-ribbon navigating through rocks and sagebrush, then a very tricky drop into a stream crossing in order to get to the trail, but that was some of the worst of it, and we spent the next hour perfecting the art of walking the rocks, and trotting all 20’ of smooth trail.

If you’ve got a horse who just wants to go, I can see where this suck would suck. If they’re the kind that don’t watch their feet, and tend to do more spazzing and flailing than actually paying attention, I would hate this section. But I was on a mare with really smart footwork, who could “see” her own clear path through the rocks, and I just concentrated on stayed balanced and staying out of her way.

With three people riding together, it can be hard to practice traditional trail etiquette for these kind of scenarios. Normally, the polite thing to do is wait until all horses are clear of a rough area, then start trotting. But when the clear sections are so brief, by the time the last horse is clear, the first horse is in rocks again. So we employed the “trot whenever” strategy. Both Beeba and Lily are fine with being left when the horse in front of them trots off, so Kim and Nort set the pace out in front – they would hit a clear section and trot, then Andrea and Lily would trot when they reached it, and then Beeba and I, bringing up the rear, would trot when we were clear. This worked marvelously, and we made pretty good time through here once we figured that out.

The next section after Bailey had some good areas (comparatively speaking) to move out again. A couple longer downhills that were a good excuse to get off and walk/jog, and we wound our way through the mountains and down towards Washoe Lake, where our next vet check was waiting at 39 miles.

The couple miles of sagebrush flats into Washoe were a blast. Beeba and I led the way, blasting through the single-track at a speedy trot. She was a little spooky to start with, peeking at the sagebrush, or off in the distance at the irrigation wheels, but I just kept asking her for a bit more speed, and the faster we would go, the more focused on the trail she would get. This was one of those trails that really paid to have an athletic, compact, nimble horse, and I was laughing like a loon by the time we hit the Washoe Lake check.

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coming into Washoe; photo by Gore-Baylor Photogrpahy

There’s a 20-minute hold there at Washoe. Some time during that 20 minutes, you have to go see the vet for a full exam, but there’s no “gate into hold” where you have to pulse down before your time starts – they just have to be down to parameters by the time you go see the vet.

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entering the check; Beeba and I are both going “wah, why’d we have to stop trotting?”

Garry had a nice crew area set up for us again, so the horses were able to settle in and eat for a few minutes  while we topped off waters/snacks, then went over to the vet. Unfortunately, since we were at the back of the pack, they were down to only one vet, so to get all three of us vetted through took almost 15 minutes.

This check was probably Beeba’s lowest point; I didn’t get a photo of the vet card at this check, but from what I remember, her CRI was less phenomenal (52/52, I think?), I think she had a couple of B’s on the movement scores, and her trot-out was a little half-hearted.

We left the check probably about 10 minutes late; but at least the horses had a chance to eat while we were waiting. Only 11 miles into camp and a one-hour hold, but before that, we had to get through the SOBs (yes, it means what you probably think it means): three infamous, v-shaped pits of hell canyon things that you basically drop straight up, climb straight back up, die a little bit, climb down, climb up (only not as bad as the first time), die a little less, then meander down and back up a third time.

Oh, and there’s about a 4-mile climb to get to that point. Just keep climbing. Up, up, up. The views from the top are amazing. Beeba slowed down and asked for some bites of whatever grassy stuff was growing alongside the trail several times, but she never quit on me.

We stopped at the top of the first SOB, made appropriate “oh, #^%*” noises, then hopped off and started picking our way down. The footing was loose and rubbly, and I basically zig-zagged my way down. Beeba kept a safe distance back from me, and dutifully followed behind me, opportunistically grabbing grass whenever I paused to ponder my next move.

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SOB 1

Surviving the down is actually the easy part. The climb up is what really sucks. I thought I would “probably be okay” – after all, I did a 50k this spring with some massive hills, and had stayed in decent shape all summer. Well, those climbs might have been long, but they were nowhere near as steep as SOB1, which also featured really gnarly, loose, rocky footing.  Beeba knows how to tail, and we had even practiced it beforehand. What I didn’t count on was her ravenous appetite. I put her in front of me, clicked to her…and she walked up a couple feet and promptly darted off to the side of the trail and started grazing.

Well, this isn’t going to work. Part of a hill like this is momentum. Stopping every two feet wasn’t going to cut it. I also wasn’t going to be standing below her in this stop-n-start routine on a steep angle with crappy footing.

New plan. Time for a wagon train. Andrea, riding Lily, got in front. Kim tailed off Lily and lead Nort. I tailed off Nort and lead Beeba. Beeba trailed behind me, waiting for the opportune moment to dive for grass. And we managed to make it up the first SOB in this fashion. Paused at the top to remember how to breathe. (Did I mention this is also at  6500’ elevation?) Then continued downward on foot, slightly less treacherous of footing…and mounted up at the bottom.

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Tackling the second SOB

Sorry, Beeba, I gave you the first one, mare, but the next ones are on you. Maybe next time I’ll tackle the second one on foot as well, but I’m calling tailing the first SOB a pretty good deal for my first VC.

Past the SOBs, the trail is rocky (what else is new?) but levels out, so we were able to get in some decent trotting as we made our way past the reservoir and to the Jumbo Grade water stop. They have water trough, and hay, and mash, as well as cookies for the riders. We took a 5-minute cookie-and-mash break there, then we continued onward – only a few miles from camp.

The reservoir road/Ophir Grade is fairly flat, and pretty hard-packed, but the rocks aren’t as bad, so we hit that road and turned on the trotting afterburners. Nort and Lily both have a bigger trot than Beeba does (or at least than she prefers) so once we escalated past about 9mph, she kicked over into her wonderful rolling canter. It’s not fast, but it’s super fun and really easy to ride. Plus it’s exhilarating to know that at 49 miles in, the horse feels good enough to want to canter and is asking for more.

We came trotting off the grade, crossed the highway, and headed down the road into camp. Since the trailer was *right there* and it was a tack-off check, we grabbed our time slips, dumped tack at the trailer, then headed over to pulse and vet.

Again, I totally failed at taking a picture of my card, but I know she was improved from the Washoe check on everything and her trot-out was once again perky and cheerful and the vet said she looked good.

Then it was back to the trailer where she got a bucket of mash, and I put some ice boots on her front legs while I ducked inside and grabbed some food for myself. I was kind of disorganized in terms of food for myself here; I wasn’t sure what I wanted, I felt a bit frazzled because we were running way later on time than what I had planned, and didn’t quite know what I needed to do at this point.

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Stuffing in whatever she could find during the one-hour vet hold at Ice House

I also knew we would be out in the dark for part of the loop, so partially changed clothes into a couple warmer top layers, plus added my jacket back on to the saddle.

With 15 minutes or so until out time, I pulled Beeba’s ice wraps off and started tacking up again. I was fully expecting dirty looks at this point, since she’s never done more than 50 miles, and here we were at 50 miles, untacked and eating, legs iced…surely she was done? To my surprise, I got a polite “hmmm, whatcha doing?” ear tip in my direction, and she kept on steadily munching through her hay as I slung the saddle back on and got everything ready to go.

Kim was doing some reinforcement work on Nort’s boots during the check in the form of adding Sikaflex for extra padding and hold (her glue-ons had been eaten by the trail along the way, and by the Washoe check, Nort was wearing all of his spare Gloves), so it took a couple extra minutes to wrap that up, and we were out 5 minutes after our out-time.

Beeba quite happily moseyed over to the out-timer and meandered her way out to the trail –this time, we were heading out of the back of camp and would return through town. She wasn’t in a major hurry at this point, but she also wasn’t arguing the idea of going out again.

We picked our way down the hill out of camp, down another embankment, over a set of railroad tracks, and down a single-track that took us through a little canyon. It was a fun little section of technical trail…a section I had been told was probably worth hand-walking, but we were sneaking in little trot sections whenever it was at all possible, so I think we made better time staying in the saddle on this particular occasion.

Once clear of the canyon, a couple miles out of camp, there was another water trough waiting…horses drank, then we crossed the highway again, and started winding around through a mining area. Some of the building were really old and abandoned, but there were other spots that still had some kind of activity going on. (At one point there was some kind of large water holding tank/mini reservoir that was doing something that involved a couple large jets of water spraying into the tank, which earned some serious “What the heck?!?” looks from Beeba…but she was a good girl and kept on trotting by, even as she gawped at it.)

This section was kind of fun in that it meandered around…down some dirt roads, through a creek, up some hills, down another long, rocky downhill. We were chasing the sun now, trying to get as far as we could into this loop before we lost the light. The trail was marked with glowsticks starting at the Jumbo Grade stop, but getting to that point would only be ribbons and lime blobs on the ground. We really hustled through parts of this section, and it was an absolute blast trotting and cantering down some of the dirt roads, everything around us getting darker by the minute.

There were a couple more train track crossings we went over, then veered off the large dirt road we had been on and onto another single-track through a section known as “mini Bailey Canyon.” It’s not as long, only a couple miles, but we were in total darkness at this point. For what I’ve been told, maybe it was better I couldn’t see the trail? The most disconcerting part was were couldn’t sure 100% sure we were on the trail, although it was one of those places that would be hard to get off the trail since there was nowhere else to go. We managed to spot a couple ribbons along the way (orange ribbons are hard to see with red headlamps), and eventually we went up a short, steep climb, and there were more ribbons and lime blobs at the top, directing us down another road. We passed below the same reservoir we had gone by on loop 1 on the way to the Jumbo Grade stop, and stayed on a road that paralleled the earlier trail from earlier.

I think the hardest part here was how dark it was, and unfortunately, any kind of lights (headlamps or glowsticks) from any of us were having a very adverse effect on Kim and making her really nauseous. So it was hard to tell what exactly on this road was trottable, and how much of it was rocky and would be better off walking. Fortunately it wasn’t too long until we reached the Jumbo water stop again, with more water, hay, and mash. We only stayed here for a few minutes, though, as the wind had picked up, and it was getting cold, so standing around didn’t sound like a great option.

As promised, the glowsticks marked the way, and we could see them winding their way up the Mt Davidson climb. This was another section I had been warned about. It’s several miles of climbing, with a few spots here and there where it levels out, then gradually climbs again. Nothing particularly steep, but just long, steady climbs. We trotted here and there when we could, but for the most part, just moved along at a nice walk. I was also getting chilly at this point, despite my 3 layers, so reached behind me and rummaged through the saddle pack (Beeba just kept trucking along, reins on her neck while I was doing this) for my super light wind shell. It’s one of those super-packable, featherweight shells that blocks wind and will temporarily block rain – a glorified garbage bag with pretty designs, basically. But that thing actually did the job and blocked enough of the wind so that I stayed a lot more comfortable.

Periodically Beeba would drift over and snatch a bite or two of dried grass from alongside the trail, but she just kept trucking up the hill. Eventually we reached what I presume was the top, or near to it, and could look out over the city lights of Reno. There were a few areas where we were able to trot a bit, and then we started descending.

Gotta say, this was my least favorite part of the whole ride: the descent off Mt Davidson. There were a series of short, steep downhills, with some washed-out, technical spots – lots of red caution flashers. It was really slow-going, and there were a few moments where I wasn’t having a whole lot of fun. The city lights in the distance were a little disorienting as well – it was *so* dark on the trail, but then the lights were bright enough in my peripheral vision to affect my night vision, so that made it seem even darker. I just wanted to get through this section as quick as possible, but a lot of the trail really didn’t lend itself well to that, and once we were clear of the technical stuff and back out onto dirt roads, we were really far behind on time and pretty much resigned to the fact we wouldn’t end up making time.

We crossed the highway yet another time (vehicle headlights are the worst; someone please tell me why there are vehicles out at 11:30 at night?), made our way through some more quiet semi-residential streets, and onto a section of trail that would connect us up to Sign Hill and the shared trail from the morning.

Beeba and I were leading through a lot of this section, and I had some really strange hallucinations start to kick in. I was a bit disoriented from the headlights in the distance, and while it wasn’t making me sick, it definitely felt a bit weird. Plus I was getting sleepy, and still cold, and my brain really started playing tricks on me. I kept imagining we were crossing a giant land bridge (just a lighter-colored section of dirt), and there were towering rock sculptures next to us (just a tree).

And then I had one of those “bad human judgment” moments. I saw one glow stick, and rather than look for the next one, just reined Beeba over to where I assumed the trail was. Mistake. All of a sudden she dropped out from under me and when I clicked on my headlamp, I could see we were standing in a rough ditch, a couple feet deep, with embankments on each side and no clear way out except to keep going up the short slope we were on. So that’s what I did, and topped out on a flat area – where there were glowsticks. Hindsight, I should have just stayed there – turns out the trail just went *around* the little ditch/hillock thing I had just blundered through, and up onto the rise where we were standing now. But Kim and Andrea were still below us, and they couldn’t see the next glowstick, so I made my second mis-judgment and went back down the ditch to re-join them and find the actual trail.

Which wouldn’t have been so bad except I was gripped with a sudden need to *see* what I was doing, so turned on the white light headlamp option. Big, big mistake. Beeba was not happy, and she tripped and stumbled her way back down the ditch and rough footing. I immediately turned the light off, and she settled right down, picked her way over to the actual trail, we found the next glowstick, and continued on our way. She started taking charge a little more after that, tugging the reins from me and making her own decisions about where the trail went, since clearly the idiot human couldn’t be trusted.

Heading back down Sign Hill we were running into a lot of traffic of riders heading back out on their third loop. Made me a little sad since I knew we were so far overtime at this point, there was no way we were heading out…and I had a niggle in the back of my mind that Beeba also wasn’t 100%. She was a bit tentative on the downhills, and the trot was feeling a little crunchy. She was still walking out at this smooth, gliding walk, and still very much an energizer bunny, even “parade horse” prancing in place when we briefly stopped along the trail.

Crossing the chalk line at the cemetery was a bit bittersweet, since I knew we wouldn’t be crossing it a second time as the finish line. I was cold and tired, but also knew myself well enough to know that a change of clothes and hot meal would be been very restorative, and I fully believe I could have gone out on that third loop if we had the time.

Walking through town was peaceful and quiet – we were on the backside of all of the Main Street businesses, and the same horse that had been all wound up and dancing through the streets Friday afternoon was now calmly striding out on a loose rein, confidently making her way back to camp.

Garry met us at the entrance to camp with the tack cart and blankets, so we stripped tack off and dumped it in the cart, then immediately went over to the vet. Yes, we were way overtime – it was just past midnight when we got back to camp, and suggested cutoff time was 11. And sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed on Beeba’s trot-out – she was off on the right hind. Pretty sure I know the culprit – she had tried to do the “two feet occupying the same 4 square inches of space” trick back in Wildcat Canyon (between Bailey Canyon and Washoe) and the right hoof had slipped and she had knuckled over at the fetlock.

We took the horses back to the trailer, bundled them up in blankets, tugged a pair of the Equiflex “sleeves” on Beeba’s front legs, made sure they had plenty of hay and water, then retreated to the trailer. I was still cold, and hungry, so heated up water and made a quick cup of ramen noodles. The hot broth/noodles warmed me up, and with filthy clothes exchanged for warm pajamas, fell into bed and was out…until about 7am when the sun was up and I was no longer able to stay asleep. Facebook got a quick updating of how the rest of the day had gone down:

Well, ultimately the stars weren’t quite in alignment for us yesterday and we were pulled at the 76-mile point…a combo of being both overtime and Beeba was off on the right hind at the trot.

Still, can’t complain…that red mare poured her heart out for me all day long over some incredible and challenging trail. This was the longest either of us have gone before, and she headed out of camp for that second loop after 50 miles without any fuss or question. She was an energizer bunny all day, steadily eating up the miles, and eating and drinking amazingly well.

And me? More 75s and 100s, please! There’s something special about these longer distances and I can’t wait to do more of them.

Much more later…this was an incredible ride and I’m glad to have had the chance to start it this year. The VC magic got its hooks in me and you can be sure I’ll return for another go at it!

Once Kim was up, we took the horses for a walk up the street a little bit – Beeba was a little stiff on the right hind, maybe a grade 1.5 at the trot, but moving well at the walk and already looking way better than she had a mere 8 hours prior.

Once the horses were taken care of, I had the chance to grab a shower, then went  wandering around camp, clutching my coffee, in search of friends who might also be awake. I eventually found Lucy, and spent some time talking with and confiding in her – this was my one “emotional overwhelm” moment that had me a little weepy – various little stresses, disappointment about not finishing, and still a bit overly tired all combined , but once I got that out of my system, that was it, and I’ve actually been pretty darn cheerful about the whole endeavor in the aftermath.

Sunday morning breakfast was part of the ride entry – great spread of eggs, potatoes, and steak. I gobbled up breakfast, then went over to grab my ride photos from Rene Baylor. He got some really great shots that captured so much of the joy and excitement I had in those moments along the way.

Parts of the awards ceremony included plaques given out to those who participated in the research study with their horses, so we didn’t come home completely empty-handed, either!

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We also managed a quick trip into town for ice cream at one of the local shops…I managed to get my hands on a huckleberry cone, which is an almost unheard-of flavor. Yum.

Sunday afternoon, it was amazing how fast camp wrapped up and people headed out, to the point where there were just three rigs left in camp.

Sunday night we went into town for dinner – found a really fun Mexican restaurant that served some really good food with generous portions (enough that half of my jumbo burrito got boxed up and eaten for lunch the next day). Part of the fun of the ride is having town right there, which makes for a more entertaining experience for crew people or family members who may not be endurance riders. There are even hotels in walking distance from basecamp.

We had most of camp packed up on Sunday, so Monday morning, it was straightforward enough to pack up the last few remaining items, clean up the area, get the horses loaded, and hit the road. We had easy travelling (including seeing big horn sheep at Walker Lake), made a quick lunch stop at Tonopah where we let the horses out in the arena to stretch and roll while we ate, then loaded up again and pushed onward to Las Vegas, where we overnighted at Cathy’s place.

It was great to see Cathy again, and re-connect with Dean, my little Tevis Ed Ride pony. We all went out for dinner that night, and after dinner, did as endurance riders do – play around with saddle fit and hoof boots. Beeba got to spend the night out in Cathy’s round pen, which meant she did some really good moving around, and all of her legs were cool and tight (she’d been harboring a little bit of puffiness, especially on the hinds, after trailering) by morning.

Tuesday morning, we headed out bright and early – on the road by 7, managed to hit Vegas rush hour, then it was smooth sailing the whole way home – a brief stop in Kingman for gas, and a pause in Wickenburg to water the horses, and then we were home early afternoon. Got the trailer all unloaded, Garry helped me remove Beeba’s boots, got all my stuff shoved back into my truck, and managed to make it back home by 2:30ish.

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Still talking to me — unloaded at home, turned her out for a drink and roll, then had to retrieve her to pull boots. And she came right over.

Beeba was totally sound by the time we got home, and the horses are getting a few weeks of well-deserved rest. I absolutely want to go back and try again – I am hooked on the idea of 75s and 100s. The trail itself was a good challenge, and the ride was impeccably managed. I’ve got a laundry list going of “takeaways, lessons learned and what to do next time” so I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to implement it.

I’ve got a couple more posts coming that’ll detail out gear, plus go into more detail about boots and gluing.

Happy trails for the rest of the 2017 ride season!

 

Ride Story: Tevis Educational Ride 2017

One step closer to my Tevis buckle dreams.

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The Tevis Educational Ride has been on my radar for a number of years, for obvious reasons. 1) It’s Tevis-related. 2) Chance to see the trail ahead of time. 3) Chance to be mentored by experienced Tevis finishers and learn appropriate pacing and other ride strategies.

The Ed Ride is held every other year (alternating with the “Fun Ride” which doesn’t cover as much of the trail, and isn’t quite as involved with mentoring/education), and includes two days of riding over basically 2/3 of the trail in a small group (2-3 people/mentor), as well as extra clinics and seminars that are particularly relevant to Tevis. To give an idea of the experience and educational value earned, despite the fact you cover 64 miles over the two days, completing the Ed Ride counts as 150 qualifying miles, for those trying to make their 300 qualifying miles to ride Tevis.

However, it’s a big time and $ commitment, especially if you don’t live in the area, so for those reasons (as well as timing, horse suitability, etc.), I’d never managed to make it to the Ed Ride. Fortunately, over the last few years, I’ve had a number of opportunities to do various and sundry pre-rides on the Tevis trail, usually coinciding with my mostly-annual crewing trips to Tevis.

This year, I was offered a chance to do the Ed Ride. A friend was going up to be an Ed Ride mentor, and had an extra horse she wanted to also have see the trail. I didn’t even have to think about that one at all — count me in for sure!

Fast forward to the Wednesday before the Ed Ride. I flew up to Las Vegas, NV early in the morning, Cathy picked me up from the airport, and we headed back to her place to finish packing and prep work. I met my ride for the weekend, an 8-year-old Al-Marah-bred gelding named Dean. This is his first season of endurance (after flunking out of both reining and dressage training) and he’s done 7 50’s to date, so went into the weekend with a good fitness base and some good seasoning and exposure to the sport (he’s done several XP rides, so technical trail was nothing new to him).

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AM Magestic Dean (AlMarah Mr Dream x Al-Marah HRH Domaine)

We got tack sorted and cleaned, stirrup lengths adjusted, and then glued hind boots on, a process that actually happened with minimal swearing or teeth gnashing.

While both horses have good hooves and tend to wear boots well, both of us opted for the extra insurance of using Renegade Pro-Comp Glue-Ons for the hind boots for the weekend. The canyons on the Tevis trail are a notoriously difficult place to keep boots on, thanks to a combination of climbing, some technical spots, some water crossings, and the amount of sweat that ends up coming off the horses.

Between Cathy, Cathy’s husband, and myself, we got both horses glued in less than an hour, taking into account boot sizing, gathering of materials, and then the actual gluing itself. Not too bad. The process for gluing Renegades isn’t necessarily difficult, per se…it’s just precise, and if the proper steps aren’t followed or followed sufficiently, then the glue job won’t be successful. And spoiler alert: they all stayed on through the whole weekend.

Thursday morning the horses got a quick bath, then we loaded up and were down the road. Because it’s a good 10+ hours between Vegas and Foresthill with a trailer, we had opted to split the drive into two days and overnight in Fallon, NV on the way up.

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driving by Walker Lake

It was a 6-1/2-hour drive on the way up, including one gas stop. Around Hawthorne and up past Walker Lake, we ran into some unexpected clouds/rain, which was a welcome relief and dropped the temperatures down into the 80s.

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settled in at the Churchill County Regional Park/Fallon fairgrounds

They got a chance to do a quick leg stretch in the arena (although were more interested in rolling in the dirt) before we settled them in a pen for the night. For us humans, luxury came in the form of power hookups and water at the campsites…hello, air conditioning and shower! I could very easily get used to this.

Friday morning, we loaded up and were back on the road bright and early after one last leg-stretching session in the arena. While they hadn’t done much the previous evening, they put on quite show in the morning — running, leaping, twirling, the full Arabian routine.

It was about a 4-hour haul through Reno, over Donner Pass, into Auburn, and onto Foresthill (including a fuel stop and stop at the CA/NV border ag station).

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stopped at the ag station. still snow on the mountains!

We pulled into camp at the Foresthill Mill Site (same location as the Foresthill vet check at Tevis) shortly before noon, and there were already at least a dozen rigs there.

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settled in at camp

Once they were settled on their respective Hi-Ties, we went over to check in for the weekend (Cathy as a mentor and myself as a rider), and go lighten our wallets at the Tevis Store. (My most-abused phrase of the weekend any time I would spend $ was “But it’s for a good cause!” as it all benefits the WSTF and the Tevis trail.)

I impulse-bought a couple of Kerrits IceFil items, as I was rapidly cooking in the hot sun and decided that the long-sleeve IceFil shirts were probably my best bet for weekend attire…and since I only had one long-sleeve shirt to bring with me, well, impulse shopping took care of that little problem.

Vetting in started at 3, and I believe we were over there shortly after it started. Fortunately there were patches of shade we were able to stand in while we waited in line.

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We’ll take it. Given he had eaten all night previously, and in the trailer, and all afternoon at camp, I wasn’t too concerned about the couple of B’s on gut sounds.

He even trotted out nicely for me…which he does when he feel like it. However, once the ride starts, his general attitude towards trot-outs is “Can’t Be Bothered.” Can’t complain about his other ground manners, though — stands politely, doesn’t fuss or trod on people, and an angel for vet handling.

Late afternoon the riders all gathered for a meet-n-greet with their chosen mentors. For the first day “long ride” option, there is a entry cap of 20 mentors and 60 riders, keeping the groups a nice, manageable size of 3 riders per mentor. It’s a pretty casual, relaxed affair — the mentors list their names, and the speed they intend to pace at (“fast”, “medium”, or “slow”), and riders can then sign up with their preferred mentor. Obviously since I was traveling with Cathy and riding one of her horses, I was signed up with her. :)

In-between the meet-n-greet and one of the educational seminars, I was called upon for some emergency boot-gluing services for one of the ladies who would be riding with our group. The gaiters of the boots she had been using the previous day had rubbed on her horse, making him sore enough to be off, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to ride the next day or not. Cathy had extra Renegade glue-ons packed with her, so we offered to glue them on and see if it made a difference.

20 minutes later, front boots were glued, the horse was standing happily, and after a couple hours of letting the glue fully set up, he trotted sound. I made no promises as to how it would hold up, given the fact that, despite helping with doing glue-ons for a number of years now, I had yet to actually tackle an entire glue job on my own.

I guess that’s on-the-job training?

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Spoiler Alert 2: They also stayed on ;)

The evening lecture was from Susan Garlinghouse, DVM, and she gave a really good lecture on feeding and electrolyting, specifically with 100-milers in mind, and some Tevis-specific relevant tips. She is always so generous with her knowledge on some of the Facebook groups, and really knows her stuff in regards to nutrition and performance. She’s also a highly entertaining speaker (bonus points for working in the phrase “take it worth a grain of salt” when discussing electrolytes), and knows how to distill down information into easily-digestible tidbits for us laypeople.

A local taco truck came in and set up shop on-site for Friday meals, and three tacos later, I was quite satisfied during the ride meeting. The ride meeting was pretty straight-forward, covering logistics: we would meet down at the Mill Site entrance at our designated times, load up into shuttle trailers, and be taken up to the start at Mumford Bar trailhead, where we would be dropped off and then ride the 25 miles back to Foresthill along the trail.

A note regarding the Ed Ride trail this year: Due to the absurdly high snowpack levels in the Sierras, the Ed Ride followed a slightly different route. The first canyon (with the “Swinging Bridge” at the bottom) had suffered some trail damage from a mud/rock slide, and while it had been open for the Western States Run last month, it wasn’t safe for horses, and while repairs will be complete by the time Tevis rolls around, an alternate start was designed for the Ed Ride.

Instead of going up to Robinson Flat, we were dropped off at Mumford Bar trailhead, about half an hour drive from Robinson Flat, and rode down Deadwood Road to the Deadwood vet check, bypassing the first canyon entirely. (At this point, I am convinced that I will not actually see the first canyon until I actually ride Tevis.) 

From Deadwood, we picked up the actual trail and took it the rest of the way in to Foresthill. Obviously, this shortened the mileage from the standard 32-mile day to about 25 miles, so for the small handful of people who needed the full mileage of the Ed Ride for their Tevis qualifying miles, they also had an out-and-back segment added on to their route to make up the miles and the descent/climb.

Day Two also experienced some trail alternations. The American River is flowing at a rate that is almost 5x what is ideal/safe for horses to cross — the winter rain/snow and subsequent snowmelt has the river flowing uncontrolled over the Oxbow Reservoir spillway. Because the river is normally dam-controlled and under regulated release, the high point of the water releases normally don’t hit that far downstream at the river crossing point until late afternoon, making it safe to cross in the earlier parts of the day. The dam-controlled aspect is also what allows the river to be held back for the duration of the Tevis ride day, making is safe to cross even in the late night/wee hours of the morning.

Normally the Ed Ride would get to the river and cross it early enough in the day to then continue on in to Auburn. This year, however, we were re-routed after Francisco’s to continue up Driver’s Flat Road (the road that is used to access the Francisco’s vet check) and finish at the Lower Driver’s Flat parking area for an approximately 20-mile day, and then be shuttled back to Foresthill from there.

Friday night was a bit restless, as it usually is for me, interrupted by Dean busting loose from his Hi-Tie at one point. Fortunately he didn’t go anywhere, but that involved having to r-attach his rope to the Hi-Tie.

So when my alarm went off, I was happy to get up and get on with things. Because saddles had already been packed the previous evening, all I had to do was pull on riding clothes, drink my coffee and eat some breakfast, then go tack up.

Cathy’s horses are used to being trailered with their tack on, so that was one less thing to mess with — just walked them down to the meeting area and they hopped right into the trailer, and we were on our way.

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our group: Gayle/Bo, me/Dean, Cathy/Tempest, Liz/Boon

From our drop-off point at Mumford Bar, we mounted up and headed down Foresthill Rd for a little less than a mile to the turnoff on Deadwood Rd. Fortunately it was early enough on a Saturday morning that traffic wasn’t an issue.

In my typical catch-rider fashion, I climbed on Dean for the first time there at the trailhead. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from him…he had done a number of rides already this year, and only a tiny handful of minor indiscretions since Cathy had him…but old habits die hard (for me) and I still have a hard time relaxing and just jumping on board without wondering if the explosion will follow shortly thereafter.

He was just fine, and handled all of the commotion at the trailhead and heading out onto the street without fuss. He did start trying to jig and get really bunched up about 1/4-mile in when Tempest started outwalking him, so rather than get into an argument or have to get too in his mouth, I just jumped off and started hand-walking him down the road until we reached the Deadwood Rd turnoff. Once I climbed back on, we started trotting, and we found a better rhythm from there.

It was about 7 miles down Deadwood Rd to water, and we alternated walking and trotting, switching off and rotating through who was leading. We got passed by several groups — riding a faster pace than we were, but got a later start for shuttling or getting on the trail. No biggie — it was a great place to pass, since it was a dirt road. However, once we had been passed, Dean suggested to me a couple of times that “Wouldn’t you like to catch those horses ahead?” Nope, dude, we’re hanging back and taking it easy today.

We connected up with the actual Tevis trail about 7 miles in, at what would normally be the top of the climb out of the first canyon — the Devil’s Thumb water stop. They had troughs out, so the horses were able to tank up really well, and then we moseyed in the mile +/- into the Deadwood vet check.

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Devil’s Thumb area. The break in the fence on Cathy’s left is where the normal trail comes in.

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single-track trail into Deadwood (sorry, horrible mixed light meant most of my photos aren’t the greatest)

There was quite a back-up for the vet line at Deadwood, so we had some time to let them drink and eat. There was a volunteer there doing courtesy pulses — since I had no idea what to expect, I had her check Dean and she said he was at 68 just coming in.

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waiting in line at Deadwood

Once he got a drink, we did the actual P&R…unfortunately, the pulse taker was just putting ’60’ on the cards if they were at or below criteria, so I don’t know what Dean actually came in at since all pulse taker said was “he’s way down, so as long as they’re down, I’m just putting 60 on the card.” :/ Would have liked the accuracy for information’s sake, but what can you do? <shrug>

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when you’re waiting, you take pictures. this guy just makes me grin.

I took advantage of the downtime to fill my bottles and water pack, and grab some snacks and stuff my face. Practicing efficiency was one of my goals for the weekend, so I felt good about using my time in line well.

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clean-up crew at Deadwood

Dean vetted well, and after everyone in our group was ready to go, we scuttled off down the trail towards El Dorado Canyon.

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in line at Deadwood

There are a couple of exposed areas going down the canyon that make me squeak a bit. Funny enough, I’m actually better about those spots when I can trot through them, but on this day, we ended up walking some of those areas, so I jumped off and lead for a little bit. Dean and I were at the back of our group, so it was more efficient for me to power hike or do some jogging than to be doing the speed up/slow down thing in the saddle.

This trail can really mess with your head in parts. At one point, I swore I was seeing what looked like a little trickle of water/mud across the trail — which there was — that then opened up into a puddle of water that was reflecting the trees and greenery. Ummm, not so much on the puddle part. It was actually open air and really tall trees. That was kind of an “eep” moment for me, and I doubled down on keeping a really strong leg on Dean, reminding him that there was a drop-off there.

It was hot, hot, hot down at the bottom of the canyon, so we only lingered for a brief moment before continuing onward, bemoaning the fact that El Dorado Creek was so difficult to access. However, they had the route detoured to the little creek that is just off the trail a little ways, and we were able to let the horses drink and give them a good sponging.

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climbing up the Michigan Bluff side of El Dorado Canyon

The climb up to Michigan Bluff is long, and hot, and the horses all start thinking you’re a little bit crazy. Fortunately there’s actually a good amount of shade along the way, but being in a canyon, there’s not much air movement, so it gets pretty warm when you’re walking up the climb.

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manzanita tunnel at the top of the canyon

Once you hit the manzanita tunnel, that’s a sign that you’re near the top of the canyon and almost to Michigan Bluff.

On ride day, Michigan Bluff is a water stop only, but for the Ed Ride, they did have a vet check there. All of the horses drank well as we sponged them down, and Dean was at pulse criteria within a couple minutes of coming in and drinking.

There was a line for the vet here as well, so we found some shade and hay and again let them eat.

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Yeah, happy with that.

Rather than get bogged down in another line at the Pieper Junction/Chicken Hawk check, we elected to hang out a few extra minutes and let them eat at MB before moseying out and making our way the couple miles to the next check.

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“Frat Boy” at MB — eating, drinking, chillin’ in the shade

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riding out of Michigan Bluff. An iconic Tevis moment when doing the ride…being there at the Ed Ride was enough to give me chills

The road between MB and PJ/CH is pretty trottable, although I had forgotten that there’s a little climb slipped in there (~400′ in less than a mile, but it’s right before the check, and all the little climbs add up).

Our strategy initially paid off when we reached the check, as there were way fewer people in line ahead of us…unfortunately, while we were pulsed down and standing in line at one of the troughs, a group behind us slipped in to an open trough ahead of us…and then decided that was “their” place in the vet line. Lesson learned: if you’re in the back of the line and people come in behind you, make sure they know you’re the back of the line. Or don’t leave a gap in-between troughs that people can slip into.

If it had been an actual ride, chasing the clock, I would have been more upset, but we weren’t being timed, and we were already out there…what difference was an extra ten minutes going to make, under the circumstances?

Dean was a little lackadaisical in his trot-out, earning him B’s on gait/impulsion/attitude, and for me to quip, “B for ‘Can’t Be Bothered.'”

One out of the check, we collectively as a group decided that we’d like to try a slightly faster pace whenever appropriate for this last canyon, as it was getting pretty warm and we were all about ready to be done for the day.

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down into Volcano Canyon

Volcano Canyon is the “baby” of the three canyons, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in being much rougher and rumblier footing. I last rode this canyon in 2014, and was able to jog-trot a good part of it…this year, we were reduced to a slithering walk on a lot of it.

The Volcano Creek crossing itself was a bit exciting. It’s always pretty rocky and slippery, and this year, Volcano Creek was a lot higher and faster-flowing than normal. Dean and I were in the lead at this point, and when he got to the edge, he decided, “Nope, not happening.” I jumped off as he contemplating back up the uphill single-track with a few drop-off areas, knowing I was probably going to have to get wet in order to get him across. I glanced at a couple of rocks, briefly contemplated rock hopping, concluded my odds of slipping on the rocks and ending up all the way in the creek were probably greater than not, and resigned myself to trudging across.

Yes, ultrarunner is a wimp who doesn’t like getting her feet wet.

Sure enough, the rocks were slippery, and Dean had a few slip-n-slide moments down in the creek, with a quick scramble at the end to get the heck outta there.

The water was cold, but felt really good, and I ended up about mid-calf deep after we cleared the main part of the stream and moved off to the other side to allow more of our group to fit in. This was another great chance to sponge the horses down, and since I was already partially wet, I squeezed several spongefuls of water over my own head/neck.

The last bit of climb out of Volcano Canyon goes by a lot quicker, and then we were at Bath Road. Now that is the part that takes way longer than expected. It’s the road that just keeps going.

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heading up Bath Rd, almost back to Foresthill

Dean was still perfectly happy to keep offering to trot, especially when some of the larger horses would out-walk him, and a few times, I obliged…a few other times, I insisted he needed to work on his “walk out” skills.

And then we were back at Foresthill and the familiar entrance to the Mill Site…a path I’ve traveled a number of times now with crewing. We got the horses pulsed down and while Dean initially was presenting to the pulse person at 64, as soon as dummy here realized I forgot to loosen his girth, his pulse immediately dropped to 56. (How long have I been doing my vet check routine of dismount and immediately loosen girth?)

We dumped off their tack at the trailer, then immediately went over to vet. Dean gave me the most unimpressive trot-out ever (seriously, can’t be bothered), although I guess he still looked perky enough for A’s on his movement scores, and the vet had some useful tips for teaching smart trot-outs.

We discovered he did have a slightly sore girth rub (coincided with the nylon edge of the billet keeper strap), as well as some scrapes and dings on a hind leg from slipping in Volcano Creek, although those were all surface.

Once we were vetted out for the day, it was back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat, and our riding group hung out in the shade and re-hydrated ourselves until it was time for the BBQ dinner.

They served some delicious grilled chicken and tri-tip, plus salad, watermelon, and garlic sourdough bread. I know I’m pretty easy to feed, especially after a day of riding, but this really hit the spot, and we wrapped up the evening with a Q&A panel of half a dozen experienced Tevis riders answering open forum questions posed to them.

Some interesting tidbits were picked up, but my biggest takeaway from the panel is “you need to figure out what works best for you and your individual horse.” If you get the same/similar enough answer on a subject from half a dozen very experienced people, then it’s likely that is a reliable tidbit to file away as “critical information” for later.

But things like shoes/splint boots/electrolytes are all such personal topics that depend very much on the individual horse and rider, and you can try to emulate a person and everything they do as much as you want, but that isn’t going to guarantee you the same level of success if that particular protocol isn’t appropriate for your horse or you as a rider.

Anyway…after the panel wrapped up, Cathy and I made a quick decision after looking at saddles, Dean’s girth rub, and girth options…since we had each saddle set up for ourselves with our individual packs, etc., and since the saddle Cathy was riding was rigged just slightly different than the one I was riding, rather than switch everything between the saddles, we would keep our saddles and just switch horses. Unconventional, I guess, but it worked.

So Sunday morning saw me crawling out of bed and repeating the same morning routine of riding clothes/coffee/breakfast. I had already filled my water pack and set saddle snacks out, so I just had to stuff bottles and snacks into the pommel pack, put front boots on, tack up, and we were ready to go.

Sunday’s route was a point-to-point of California Loop up Driver’s Flat Rd, at which point we would be shuttled back to Foresthill. I did this exact same route last summer with Lucy and Kaity, and while I had a few “squeaky” moments, overall I was surprised by how “not scary” I found Cal Loop to be. (I’m sure it’ll feel different in the dark, but with my overactive imagination, it’s far better for me to go into a scenario knowing “yep, have already done this trail, we can handle it” than to be wondering just what the heck we’re traversing over.)

I also had the advantage today of being on the experienced horse — Tempest finished Tevis last year, so she knew where we were at as well. From the get-go she felt good, snorting softly as we trotted by the cemetery (another “I see dead people” horse), and striding out through town. Even if she did have to stare suspiciously at the liens in the road and any stop sign/crossing writing on the road.

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“Slow? I don’t wanna go slow.” Theme of the day.

Dean and Cathy initially lead out once we passed through town and hit the trail, but Tempest was in fire-breathing dragon mode (which I’m familiar with thanks to Mimi) and was having way too much fun breathing down the more slow-moving Dean’s back, so I shuffled her to the front at the first appropriate moment and we led the way down Cal Loop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect the second time through — now that I had seen and knew what parts I considered kind of “scary,” would I be looking for them? Would it seem worse? There’s one exposed section with very little “catch vegetation” before Cal 1 that I hadn’t cared for, but for whatever reason, it didn’t even register in my brain this time. We reached Cal 1, and I had a moment of going “wait, we’re at Cal 1 already?”

Now, we did have a “moment” at one of the Dardanelles Creek crossings on the way to Cal 1. There was a very large step-down into a very rocky crossing — hard to find good footing, and the water depth was hard to see. I once again hopped off, this time making it across without getting soaked, but when Tempest went to cross, she slipped and did a very impressive flail/scramble to get through. If it gives you an idea of the degree of scramble, one of her fetlock interference boots ended up inside out and up near her hock.

Lesson learned: try to stay on the horse if at all possible on water crossings. I just wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get her to cross it without a major fight or a ridiculous cross-country leap over it. Hindsight, even the leap probably would have been better.

So much of Cal Loop is so trottable. The footing is good, for the most part, and the grades are gentle enough to allow for some good stretches of continuous trotting. Which Tempest was more than happy to oblige.

Just after Cal 1, we switched it up and put Dean in the front again. Fire-breathing dragon mode activated on Tempest again, and I got some good practice in riding off my core, and using seat and legs to keep her an appropriate distance back versus hanging in her mouth the whole time. We reached a fair-to-middling compromise on the issue.

The section between Cal 1 and Cal 2 was a little longer than I remembered, although fortunately there were some natural springs/creeks flowing for the horses to drink. But we did reach Cal 2, and set off down those switchbacks. I swear, this whole trail flows like a time warp, because the Cal 2 switchbacks were a lot shorter than I remembered.

The Ford’s Bar section — where you climb up, and then climb right back down — was just as nonsensical as I remembered. This area was a part of last year’s Trailhead Fire that burned just a few weeks before Tevis, but some of the greenery is already starting to come back.

The next section, between Ford’s Bar and Sandy Bottom, also had some “exposure” sections I hadn’t been real fond of previously, but I actually felt comfortable enough to trot through a good part of it this time. Tempest is really sure-footed and smooth, so it’s easy to feel really comfortable on her. She tended to “look” at things, especially rocks/logs, but all she would do was tip her head and start a little bit, and I never felt worried about her slipping or stepping off the trail.

Down at Sandy Bottom, we were fortunate enough to find an access point down to the river, so we took several minutes to go down and let the horses drink, and stand in the  water and cool off. After the previous day’s water-crossing episode, I was pretty immune to the whole “I don’t wanna get wet” thing, so tromped right into the river myself, getting knee deep, and using the horse sponge to thoroughly drench my head/neck.

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Cathy with Dean in the foreground; me and my obnoxiously fluorescent sponge (and a sulking Tempest) in the back

Tempest didn’t find the river nearly as amusing as the rest of us. She drank well, but had to be begrudgingly dragged fetlock-deep into the water so I could more easily sponge her. (Also not an amusing trick, per her.)

That was the most refreshing 5-minute break ever, and totally worth the time spent.

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down at Sandy Bottom

From there, it was a couple more miles along the river road to Francisco’s. Normally a check on the ride (an initially supposed to be a check for the Ed Ride), this time the road down to the check was too rutted out to be able to safely get vehicles/volunteers down to that point. They were able to get several troughs, hay, and some people snacks and waters, down to a spot just before Francisco’s, so we had a chance to get more water and let the horses eat for a few minutes before heading up to and through the Francisco’s meadow and up Driver’s Flat Rd.

We passed by the turnoff the trail takes to Poverty Bar — Tempest glanced that way, and then kept peering off to the side as we climbed the road, as if to say “Umm, don’t we go that way?” Nope, not this time. Climb, climb, climb we go, up ~1800′ in ~2 miles. Tempest was a climbing machine — any time I’d offer to let her stop in the shade, she’d brush off the offer and just keep marching.

The Lower Driver’s Flat parking lot was a welcome sight — hay and water for horses, food and cold water for people, and lots of shade to hang out and take a breather for a bit. They made this our finishing point, so when we vetted out, we were done for the day.

I forgot to get a pic of the vet card, but I do remember Tempest vetted out very well (she does a gorgeous in-hand trot-out), and had pulsed down to 52 by the time she was finished drinking.

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hanging out at Driver’s Flat

We hung out around the troughs and in the shade for probably about 10 minutes after we were done, letting the horses eat and drink. At one point, I was sitting on the edge of the trough, and Tempest decided she was so thirsty, she was getting to that trough no matter what…pretty sure she was intent on pushing me in if I hadn’t slid out of the way fast enough. (That would be the side of her that qualifies for “mare ‘tude.”)

Then we moseyed up to the Upper Driver’s Flat parking lot where we were able to shuttle back to Foresthill with a couple of other riders. Got the ponies untacked and cleaned up, and while Cathy worked on packing up the trailer, I worked on removing hind boots.

There are a couple of ways you can go about removing glue-on boots. You can use a flat-head screwdriver and chisel between the hoof wall and boot wall and break the glue bond. You can chop the boot wall off in pieces with hoof nippers. Or you can cut the sole of the boot away and then peel the boot wall off the hoof wall. I opted for the third option.

You do want a horse that stands quietly, as you’re going to be working with a knife. If they don’t stand well, or have a tendency to fidget, maybe use one of the other options. Even with a quiet horse, be careful. It’s still an exposed knife blade. I use a straight edge box cutter, something I can adjust so that only a small amount of the blade is sticking out, just enough to penetrate the thickness of the boot wall. Cut around the outside of the boot, at the point where the boot wall joins the boot sole. Since there’s no glue on the sole of the hoof, once the cut is complete, you can pop the sole of the boot off the hoof. Then grab a corner of the boot wall and start peeling it off the hoof wall.

I had both horses hind boots off in about 15 minutes.

Very pleased with my experience in using glue-ons for the weekend. I love the ease and convenience of using a strap boot for training and the vast majority of rides I do. But for certain scenarios, it is really nice to have the glue-ons as an option.

The afternoon wrapped up with an awards presentation for our completion certificates (pictured at the top), and a giveaway prize raffle. (I actually won an ice pack shoulder wrap thing.) The ultimate prize, of course, was a Tevis entry. Nope, didn’t win the Tevis entry. ;)

Cathy headed out after awards — Tempest is slated to go to Tevis is year, so rather than haul all the way back to Vegas, and then back up to Tevis less than a month later, she found a place outside of Reno to keep the horses and will fly back in ahead of Tevis.

And I headed for Tevis Low Camp (aka Lucy’s, aka my Sierra Foothills home away from home), where I got a shower, pizza, beer, and lots of laughs and great conversation. Monday morning, Lucy deposited me off at the Sacramento airport (seriously, I know this place as well as Phoenix at this point), and I came home to two very happy pups.

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It was an absolutely amazing weekend…ride management and all of the volunteers put on a fantastic ride, I learned a ton, and had a blast. I can’t thank Cathy enough for providing me the opportunity to participate in the Ed Ride weekend, and for sharing her ponies with me.

Next up: Food/Drink/Clothing/Tack/Afterthoughts

Ride Story: Tahoe Rim Ride 50 2016

The Tahoe Rim Ride is a “boutique”, limited entry ride with a unique entry system: you send in your entry, and trailer parking spots are drawn. If you are drawn, you can then bring as many people with you as can fit in your rig (minimum of 2 people per rig). There are only 18 spots available in what management describes as the “postage stamp parking lot” so it still remains a small ride, and since people tend to bring other people that they like and are friends with, it has a very comfortable, casual, fun atmosphere.

Entries got sent in last fall, and a group of us all sent entries in with the hope that at least one of us would get drawn, and thus bring the rest of the group. My observation was that I had neither rig nor 50-mile horse, so wouldn’t it be ironic if my entry got drawn?

I got drawn.

Since this was back in December when entries were drawn, plans were pretty vague at that point, but I had assurances that we would make ride attendance happen, and offers of at least a couple of horses that would be available. Plans were finalized by late spring, when full entries had to be sent it…I would be riding Lucy’s Roo (AM Ruwala Land)! I’ve had a soft spot for him from the very beginning, when I went up to crew for Lucy and Roo at Tevis 2009. I’m a sucker for anything out of the Al-Marah lines, and he’s just a fun little horse…just my size at 14.1, very sensible in his trail-craft (I’ve done part of the Tevis canyons and Cal Loop on him), and generally an uncomplicated worker bee…albeit with what can be a wicked spook, depending on his mood. He’s also very experienced, having just earned his 2000 miles earlier this year, and has done Tahoe Rim twice…and it’s one of his favorite rides.

As anyone who has been following my blog knows, the last couple of years have been pretty endurance-lite…and the few rides I have managed to get to haven’t exactly been successful, with one lameness and two overtime pulls, all in LDs, and it had been 3 years since my last 50. By the time summer rolled around, I was at the point of seriously questioning my capabilities, trying to push through some major fear issues, wondering whether continuing to try to pursue endurance was worth it, and prior to getting some good rides in during Tevis week, ready to throw in the towel on even going to Tahoe Rim.

My week at Tevis provided some much-needed saddle time (and conquering Cal Loop was a major confidence-booster) and friends-as-sounding-boards to finally talk about all of my doubts and insecurities that had been pinballing around in my head, and I wrapped up that week feeling much better about the whole endeavor. Not only would I be riding a very experienced horse who knew and liked the trail, I would be riding with my friend Renee, who has quite a bit of endurance experience and miles, so I would be in good hands (and hooves).

The week leading up to the ride, I spent way too much time overthinking again, obsessing over little details like what to wear, what water system to use (bottles or hydration pack?), what snacks to bring, the trail and timing of the loops…I’m a type A, list-and-detail-oriented planner, and attending rides is still a novelty to me…so I over-think and over-plan, but I’d rather be that way than the opposite.

My original plan was to glue Renegade Glue-Ons on Roo’s hinds. Historically, he was always been hard on hind boots, no matter what kind, and I figured it would be one less thing to worry about. Since I wanted some extra time to glue, I left Phoenix on Wednesday late afternoon for an evening arrival in Sacramento.

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Jetting out just ahead of a monsoon microburst

I’m starting to feel really familiar with the Sacramento airport…next to Phoenix, it’s my most-frequented airport. (And a very nice airport it is.) Lucy picked me up, and we headed back to her place (which is starting to feel a bit like a second home).

Thursday was my prep day — get the trailer packed, food shopping done, ahead-of-time cooking done, boots glued. Only, when I went to try the glue-ons on, I realized I had made a sizing error, and they were going to be way too big. (What have we learned from this, children? Always remeasure and check sizing, even if “it’s what they used before.” See, I had used Classic size 0 boots on him in the strap style before…they’re a little loose, but 00 are too tight, and more recently, he’s been going in Vipers anyway. So I figured 0 would be fine. As it turns out, he probably needs the 0-N size that is offered in glue-ons.)

I hemmed and hawed for a bit, and then decided that, whatever, I was just going to run him in his normal strap boots. Lucy said it was a boot-friendly ride, with minimal steep climbs after a water crossing, and minimal mud. Okay, then. That’s 2+ hours of my day I just got back, and promptly spent grocery shopping, cooking, and taking Roo out for a leg-stretch down to the lane.

Ridecamp for Tahoe Rim was only about 2-1/2 hours from Lucy’s, so Friday morning was spent leisurely drinking coffee, packing up the coolers, and giving Roo a quick hose down before loading up and pulling out about 11. We picked up Renee and her mount for the weekend, Finney, made the obligatory Starbucks-and-lunch stop in Auburn, and then were well and truly on our way.

The route to TRR from Lucy’s is the same as going to Tevis, only instead of making the turn at the summit to head down to Tevis, you keep on heading south, crest the summit, and continue down to Lake Tahoe.

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gorgeous Lake Tahoe…I really want to come back here and spend some time at the lake

This is easily the most scenic drive I’ve made to a ride — the road hugs the eastern shore of the lake before peeling off to the east, past Spooner Lake, and up a service road to ridecamp.

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*very* organized parking…there were still 3-4 more rigs that ended up fitting in at the back of camp.

We got the ponies settled on their Spring Ties, I gave Roo a final quick touch-up on his feet and popped his boots on, and then we made our way over to vet in. He vetted very nicely, and was cheery enough on the trot-out to give a head toss and some kind of little hop thing. Guess he’s ready to go, huh?

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body score of 6…I may have been a little overzealous in how much food I was stuffing into him…

Once we were vetted, Renee and I tacked up and headed out for a quick pre-ride to the ride start + first maybe mile or so of trail. The start is nice — the wide dirt road that leads into camp, and then you peel off onto a single-track trail that does some steep dips up and down, and one steep downhill. Lucy had warned me about that last downhill, and that historically if Roo was going to act up anywhere, he would probably try to sneak in some crowhopping at that point, so she wanted me to get a look at the trail so I would know what to expect.

Roo didn’t even wait for the ride start…he threw some jigging, and some naughty pony crow-hopping in as soon as we were towards the bottom of the steep downhill, since Finney and her fast walk had gotten *just slightly ahead of him*. Fortunately he’s pretty half-hearted in his attempts and is very controllable, so I was able to ride him out of it and we headed up the trail another 1/4 mile or so before turning around and heading back to camp.

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pre-ride, heading back to camp on the road in/out

Once we got back, we had just enough time to untack before ride briefing, which was a perfect balance between “long enough to share everything you need to know” and “short enough to still be interesting.” 7am ride start, the trail would be 3 loops of 18/12/20, with a 45-minute hold at the vet check in-between loops. Pulse parameters were 60 at the checks, 64 for the finish. We were warned that the first 9 miles were essentially uphill, climbing from basecamp (~7000′) to the highest point of the ride at 9000′.

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ride map

After briefing, we pulled a quick dinner together (tortellini and chicken-caesar pasta salad), spent some time socializing, and then I eventually succumbed to the colder-than-I-was-used-to temperatures and lure of a cushy mattress. I slept “typical” for me on a pre-ride Friday night…which is to say, “not great.” I’m always restless the first night in a new place, combined with some pre-ride nerves, and the fact I had forgotten to bring any melatonin with me meant I spent quite a bit of time shuffling and tossing and turning…but at least I was warm.

It was almost a relief to have the alarm go off at 5am…time to get up and get moving. I was back to my typical “don’t wanna eat, nothing looks appealing” games, but managed to stuff in my coffee, juice, part of a banana, and about half a little container of oatmeal. Not fabulous, but better than nothing.

As soon as it started getting light out, we took the ponies for a quick leg stretch walk around camp, and once back at the trailer, I quickly put Roo’s boots on while everything was still nice and quiet — I wasn’t sure how fidgety he might get, and I like to be prepared and have some extra time to sit and twiddle my thumbs versus scrambling to get ready. Lucy was volunteering at the vet check and had to leave at 6 to be able to get up there in time, so she headed out, truck loaded with our crew bags/boxes.

Tacking up was quick, since I had already been through the fiddly bits yesterday of attaching boot bags and getting everything situated and adjusted, so all I had to do was fluff the saddle pad, tack up, and add water bottles.

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all nice and relaxed before the start. camp was plenty lively, and all Roo did was stand there and snooze. after 2000 miles, he’s got this game figured out.

In an effort to avoid ride start shenanigans from either horse, we elected to wait a couple of minutes and meander out after most of the pack had left, and it worked beautifully. There were only a few people us when we strolled out of camp at 7:05am, and we got a nice walk down the road, got through the steep downhill without any issue whatsoever, had a couple of people pass us, then we passed a couple people, all within the next mile, and then we settled in to a space bubble we would keep for most of the day.

Since Renee is really, really good at pacing, and Roo is way less spooky when he’s following, Renee was elected “herd leader” for most of the day, and she did a great job of setting a really steady, consistent, all-day dib-dib-dib pace. The trail wove around trees and rocks, and steadily gained in elevation. Eventually we broke clear of the trees and we on a ridgeline that overlooked Lake Tahoe, with Marlette Lake right below us.

“Breathtaking” really doesn’t even begin to describe it, and pictures certainly can’t do it justice. I think “wow” became the most over-used word the whole day.

Shortly after hitting the aforementioned highest point of the ride — Snow Valley — we passed by ride photographer Bill Gore (who is a West Region institution as a photographer; and he’s been the official Cougar Rock photographer for the last several years) and I told him to take lots of pictures. :) I have a whole stack of them in print format that I got there at the ride; these are two digital copies:

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photo by Bill Gore; Gore-Baylor Photography

 

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photo by Bill Gore; Gore-Baylor Photography

Go to the linked site to see allllllll of the lovely photos from the weekend.

(Yes, Roo’s tail is orange. No, I did not dye it to match his boots. :P Where Lucy lives is very much of a red dirt footing, and it inevitably stains anything light/grey-colored…and I just couldn’t be bothered with extensive tail scrubbing for his bath.)

After climbing, the trail descended (of course…theme of the day: “what goes up must go down”), back into the trees, still on lovely single-track with excellent footing, and we made our way down to the “water trough intersection” that we would end up re-visiting 3 times throughout the ride.

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Cruising into the water trough intersection. Photo by Rene Baylor; Gore-Baylor Photography.

The troughs were at about 10 miles,…perfect place to electrolyte, relieve one’s self behind a tree, and yank another snack out of the saddle pack. (Bonus points for electrolyting Roo while managing to keep this waffle-cookie thing clenched between my teeth…which is what can be done when the horse is polite and easy to electrolyte [“Mimi and Liberty, I’m looking at you,” she muttered under her breath].) Both Roo and Finney drank well, and we were out of there in…I dunno, 5 minutes or less?

From here, the single track turned into double-track service road, and we got some good trotting in again before it turned downhill…we both hopped off and lead down. Renee and Finney for sure made better time, but neither Roo nor myself are particularly speedy on downhills…but the stretch felt good. Once the trail flattened out again, it turned into an old flume road that wound around and eventually into the vet check. There were some really good long-trotting sections here, and we switched off leading back and forth. There was a pretty good climb a couple miles out from the vet check, and then the pie plate mileage marker that we had been warned was actually more like 1/2 a mile, despite saying “1/4 mile”.

The entrance into the check was right through a knee-deep creek, so unless you really don’t mind wet feet, you ride right into the check. But the creek gives them a chance to drink and start cooling down, and with the creek right there, they had an endless supply of water refills for lots of sponging buckets. Roo is not world’s best/fastest pulser, even with walking the last 1/4-mile into the check, so I did lots and lots of sponging and sloshing with that nice cool water, and it took him about 5 minutes to come down to the 60 parameter.

This ride wins for most unique vetting location — the trot-out was along the top of the dam of Hobart Reservoir.

Roo vetted beautifully, with the only B’s being on two of the four gut sounds quadrants…everything else, all A’s. And he was a squirmy fidget who just wanted to rub against me, so clearly he was just getting warmed up.

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itchy face

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noble beast

Once we were vetted, we still had another 35 minutes or so left of our 45 minute hold, so we headed over to the crew area Lucy had set up for us. The ponies got mashes and hay, and I wandered over to the food table. Management had a serious spread set out — muffins and cookies, fruit, crackers, all kinds of drinks, and a huge cooler loaded with half a dozen different varieties of sandwiches. A tuna salad with swiss sounded like the best thing ever…and it was! Probably some of the best tuna I’ve ever had. I sat and ate, and enjoyed the rare luxury of having a crew person do things like refill my water bottles and stuff snacks in my saddle pack.

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endurance horse rule — the other horse’s food always tastes better

Lucy also pulled Roo’s boots and cleaned them — the creek crossing immediately into the sandy check had left them quite a mess, and we also wanted to see how the newly-drilled holes in the toes were working to help minimize debris. (Some horses, either due to hoof shape, boot fit, or terrain ridden in, can sometimes get dirt wodged in the boot toe enough that it creates a bit of a gap, pushing the toe of the boot further forward than the breakover point and tightening the captivator. Drilling a couple of pencil-eraser-sized holes can help empty the toe area without compromising the boot structure or wear.) Roo is also very sensitive-skinned and prone to getting rubs (he had a spot on his shoulder by the end of the day that was slightly more bald where the sponge was hanging), so I wanted to double-check that he wasn’t having any issues from the boots…and he wasn’t.

Electrolytes were administered, bridles and helmets put back on, and we were out of there. We were right on time at the out-timer, but by the time we got mounted up, Roo thought about peeing (but ultimately didn’t…no matter, he had already peed out on the first loop at the troughs…), and we got out of there, it was about 2 or 3 minutes past our out-time.

Loop two went out on more of the double-track road, and quickly peeled off onto a lovely single-track that roughly paralleled the earlier hill we had hiked/jogged down, back up to the trough intersection, and then headed back to Snow Valley. The ponies were most enthusiastic, since their compasses were pointed “due trailer” and they were seriously disappointed when we reached Snow Valley and started down a long downhill away from camp. This was another good “get off and walk” hill, and at the bottom, there was some lush grass for the ponies to munch.

This loop, although it was the shortest at 12 miles, felt like it went on forever. I generally have very good spatial orientation and sense of direction, and can typically “know” where the trail is going just based on looking at the map and some internal “if we need to get here, this is what e should do based on the terrain” calculations…but the last few miles of this loop threw me a bit. I think my sense of timing was off, and I felt like we should be further than we were, so when we veered away from the direction I *thought* we should be heading (thought we were closer to the check), that was a bit disconcerting, but ultimately, the closer we got to the check, the more I got myself re-oriented.

It also started getting warm on this loop, so I reveled in ditching my overshirt and just riding in a tank top (sufficient tree cover plus sunscreen meant I might not actually get burned to a crisp, unlike riding in the desert).

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It was a relief to get into the check (ponies still cheerfully moving out, even passing a couple of ladies we had been leapfrogging with for the past few miles) and dismount…my legs were telling me it had been a very long time since I had done more than 25 miles, and I had a seriously cranky hamstring-thing happening. (I say hamstring, but I don’t think that’s actually it…there’s a spot just above my knee, on the inside towards the back of the leg. I aggravated it somehow running, and while it hadn’t bothered me to date riding…I also hadn’t gone more than 22 miles, and not with this much trotting.)

Roo took his standard 5 minutes and lots of water sloshing to pulse (after he drank like a fish in the creek), and was at all A’s all around for vetting.

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vetting after loop 2; he is such a character. he’s one of my favorite geldings, just because he has so much depth of personality and attitude, the kind I normally attribute to mares

Another 45 minutes and a repeat of the last check, with peanut butter and jelly replacing  the tuna sandwich for me. More waters re-filled, electrolytes topped off, boots pulled/cleaned, saddle fenders adjusted to hopefully provide a little more lower-leg support, bathroom visited, electrolytes dosed, lots of mash eaten, back to the out-timer, and on our way right on time.

Loop three had another one of those long-trotting flume roads, and Renee was a good sport about heading out in front again. I was fast running out of leg strength to be able to reliably hold position if Roo would spook (which he was plenty inclined to do when he was in the lead), and I was trying to avoid getting to the point of being out of balance and causing any kind of back soreness. This loop also featured a climb that Lucy had warned me about — short (maybe 3/4 of a mile) but steep, and historically, Roo has been wildly unimpressed (read: “I’m gonna die”) with it, so she said prepare for a wilted, trudging horse.

Roo must have eaten his Wheaties at the check, because what I got was a crazy-strong, impatient, enthusiastic climber. We stopped to let Finney take a breather, and Roo just kept trying to march ahead. There were strategically-positioned troughs at the very top of the climb, and both ponies gratefully snorkeled.

The section after this was fun — slower-going, as it was a more technical single-track that wound through a ton of granite boulders, with some interesting step-overs, and a lot of sections where, if you could trot for 30′, you trotted.

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Roo and I ended up leading through a lot of this section to give Fineny a mental break, and since it was slower-going and smaller trot sections, it was a more controlled environment for me to be able to manage his spooking, and physically, I could cope with the short trot sections a lot easier.

Eventually the trail made its way around and down to the trough intersection where we electrolyted, they drank, and we were on our way. From the troughs, it’s about 8 or 9 miles back to camp, and although I had been doing really well up to this point, I started hitting a wall on that last stretch. Again, a bit of spatial disorientation had me thinking we were closer than we actually were. My hamstring was also not thrilled with me, and kept getting less thrilled. This section had a lot of very shallow grade downhill trotting, and that seemed to cause the most discomfort.

Roo earned so many gold stars on this section, as I basically let him do his thing and just concentrated on trying to stay centered and balanced and not turn into a flopping platypus. I was really happy for the treed saddle (Specialized), and for the endurance-style pommel, since it allowed me to balance some of my weight on the pommel, and be a little more forgiving of weight distribution.

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on loop three, almost down to lake level (Marlette Lake in the background)

Several years ago, a group conversation resulting in the following gem from Renee: “Nobody likes a sissy!” and it’s stuck around as a catch phrase that we all use to remind ourselves from time to time. Said in good humor, but it’s a gentle reminder that 1) we choose to do this, 2) if it were easy, everyone would do it and it wouldn’t be endurance, and 3) dig deep.

Renee was super-encouraging during this section, and kept us going with a persistent forward motion. The whole trail was really smooth, and once we were past Marlette Lake, we picked up the Tahoe Rim Trail towards Spooner Lake…more beautiful single track that wound through pine trees and aspens.

Roo snuck his way into the lead at one point, gave me a couple more good spooks, lost his leading privileges, and then we were back at the base of the steep downhill trail from the morning, only now it was one last steep uphill, little down, and down onto the road for the last 1/4-mile into camp. We walked — or attempted to walk — in so that the horses would hopefully be down by the time we reached camp, but both Roo and Finney still had plenty of energy and kept both sneaking into their little jog-trots.

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And then we were finished! I’m not sure of our exact ride time…I completely forgot to stop my GPS until after we were all done vetting and back at the trailer, but I think we got back to camp just after 6, so with 1:30 of hold times, I think that probably puts our ride time at around 9:30-45. Apparently this is known as one of the most difficult 50s in the region, and a GPS-track ranking system (TopoFusion) ranks it as “at the top of the difficult scale when compared to tracks of similar distance.”

We got tack pulled and the ponies covered in fleeces, and headed over to vet. Roo trotted out beautifully (Lucy took a video that I later watched), had pulsed down to 56, even after trotting out, and finished with ALL A’s.

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Roo doesn’t understand what the big deal is

I freely admit: I cried. I was so relieved, so happy, so validated. I went from “I can’t even finish an LD, so maybe endurance isn’t for me” to finishing an extremely tough 50, toughing through some physical pain, and feeling like I am a competent endurance rider.

Ride dinner was a delicious build-your-own-taco bar, and I sat down with a beer, a plateful of delicious tacos, and enjoyed the entertaining awards.

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technically a beer pilsner…but since I drink things like water and iced tea more than I drink beer, it is being designated an all-purpose glass (awards every year have been some kind of fun drink glass)

Lucy had brought and set up her camp shower, so after awards, we were able to get hot showers and scrape the initial layer of dirt off. A number of people were still staying overnight, so we had a couple hours of socializing, and then I was ready to crash until morning. I was dreading waking up and getting out of bed, but I actually didn’t feel horrible the next morning. Because Roo doesn’t pull, I didn’t have the fighting/bracing soreness I would get from riding Mimi, and because he’s a lot smoother, my calves weren’t all knotted up from posting an eggbeater trot. Upper legs, and the cranky hamstring, were sore, and the core muscles were letting me know they were there.

And as for Roo? He took off at a tail-flagging trot up the driveway/hill out of camp after Finney when we were hand-walking them, leaving me scrambling to try to keep up. He was feeling quite fine, had some very minimal stocking up in his legs (understandable with the downhill trotting we had done, but his Equiflex sleeves seemed to have done a good job overnight), and no back soreness.

I got to gawp at Lake Tahoe one more time on the drive back, we dropped Renee and Finney off (Roo was very sad over leaving his new bestest girl), gave Roo a shower when we got home, dragged coolers in the house, grabbed a shower myself, and then crashed for a couple-hour nap.

This trip was also a birthday present to myself, as my birthday was four days after the ride, and finishing it was absolutely the best present I could ask for right now.

To Lucy: Thank you so much. Without your support, none of this would have happened: the horse, the rig, the crew help. Thank you for trusting me with Roo, and for having the faith that I lacked that I could do this. Thank you for sharing your special pone with me. You’re not just an endurance friend…you’re family.

More still to come with my typical post-ride analysis and what worked/didn’t…

Ride Story: Wickenburg’s Land of the Sun 25 2016

I apologize for the complete lack of brevity in the regaling of this tale. It truly turned into one of those Milestone Rides for us, and I’m trying to capture every moment of it.

Getting the Wickenburg ride to come back has been an event several years in the making — the last time it was held was the last time I rode it, back in 2010. It came back under new management, and a new ridecamp location (the fabulous Boyd Ranch, which is totally worth the 8-mile drive on rutted dirt roads to get back to it)…but like all new, or essentially new, ride, there tend to be some kinks to work out, and you know going in to a first-time ride that you as the rider are going to be something of a guinea pig.

At this particular ride, it was the trail itself that would prove to be the greatest challenge and need the most ironing out — very technical, with a lot of rocks, climbing, and deep sand, with not enough areas to safely move out to balance it out and be able to make up time. Ultimately, we came in overtime, but the fact that we unexpectedly ended up going it alone for most of the ride — the first time Liberty has done that — I was really happy with the outcome, and it was the absolute best learning and training experience I could have hoped for.

Wickenburg is a “local” ride for me — only about 2 hours away, including the last 8 miles of really rough, washboard dirt road that can take about 30 minutes alone if you’re hauling a trailer. (The road should have served as a preview of the terrain that was to come…)

Kirt and Gina were only about 10 minutes behind me, so I secured a good spot in camp (on the outskirts, but we had room to spread out and set up the electric pens). They had brought the usual suspects of my Liberty, Yankee for Gina, and Wicked (the big grey mare who is Liberty’s pasture-mate…it’s good for her to get the trailering and camping exposure…and good “oh, yes, you will leave your BFF” training for Liberty…)

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ponies in pens…Liberty, Wicked, Yankee

While Kirt set up the pens, Gina and I went and checked in and grabbed our ride packets, then pulled horses out and gave them a thorough brushing before heading over to vet in. (Shedding season…I scraped quite a bit of hair off Libby.)

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hydrating before vetting

I’ll be the first to say it: Liberty was a brat for vetting. She was fussy about letting the vet look at her mouth (although she did stand nicely for getting her temperature taken), her pulse was a little high (44) since she was excited over leaving Wicked back at the trailer, and then she had to trod on my foot during our trot-out (trail running and endurance riding: Toenails Optional), which earned her an impromptu schooling session (and a second trot-out). Still needs some more work in the Manners Department.

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The predicted forecast was going to be warm: 83°, and while I wished for clippers, I settled for mane braiding on both Liberty and Yankee. Their hooves needed a bit of attention, so they each got a trim, I checked boot fit and did some adjusting (even with a trim, I wasn’t loving how the Classic shells fit her…keep this in mind for later…), and then gathered tack together for the morning.

I haven’t been happy with how the Duett has worked, or rather, not worked, on her, since she’s been sore in the loins every time, even with three different saddle pads. Irony: All of the horses I’ve catch-ridden, she’s been the only one it hasn’t worked on. Fortunately, Gina had a spare saddle I could try: a Frank Baines Reflex dressage saddle, fully kitted out with all the necessary rings and such for endurance. I put it on the saddle stand, sat my own butt in it and determined it felt good enough to at least start the ride in (could always switch at lunch if need be), and then checked the fit on Liberty. I liked how it sat on her, and there’s a little more rock in the tree than the Duett, which is where I think I was running into problems. Also: She’s a tank. The tree is the 4W, which is the widest tree they offer in that particular model. It’s also a monoflap, and substantially lighter than my ridiculously-heavy Duett.

I also electrolyted Liberty and Yankee at this point, knowing the next day was going to be warm. Liberty hates syringes and electrolytes (oh, yay, another one…) so there was Drama and head flinging and electrolytes splattered everywhere…but we eventually got it done…and Yankee was a good boy and took his without complaint.

One of the perks offered at this ride was dinner on both Friday and Saturday night, so around 5ish, we wandered down to the pavilion where management and volunteers had an appetizer spread ready while the dinner of beans, several kinds of pulled pork, coleslaw, and tortillas were being set out.

Ride meeting was really brief — pretty sure there were still people trickling in as the meeting was wrapping up — although it covered the salient points: “Follow these color ribbons on these loops, watch for the chalk arrows/lines/numbers on the ground, when in doubt read your maps with trail descriptions, hold times and pulse parameters are ‘x’ and ‘x’.” (I’m not a fan of long ride meetings, so I appreciated the brevity.)

It was nice to have had enough time in the afternoon to get everything I needed to done, so the evening was relaxing, and I even managed to get to bed in decent time, aided by my new BFF, a tab of melatonin, which helps with my “first-night-in-new-place-plus-pre-ride-jitters” restlessness. I give myself plenty of time (2+ hours before the start) on ride mornings to slowly wake up, dress, make coffee, force myself to nibble on something (green juice smoothie, poptart, banana), then boot/tack up.

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tacked up and almost ready to go…just need bridles

We were tacked up and ready to go by the time the 50s started, but both Yankee and Liberty were fairly “up” so I took a few minutes to have Liberty walk/slow trot some circles around me and get her brain re-focused before I mounted. She had some moments of wanting to twirl around and head back to the trailer while we were walking over to the start, so I did a lot of walking, and circles, and making her pay attention to me, before we headed over to check in at the start line.

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antsy-pants displaying her favorite indiscretion: pawing

I made one mistake, and I realized it as soon as we started: I had swapped the solid curb strap back to the one with the chain (why???) and I knew immediately it was too much for her, as she tucked her head extremely behind the vertical and got very fussy. *sigh* Too late to change now…but it meant I had to be extremely conscious of how much contact I was using (not as much as I prefer, especially at a ride start). Fortunately, she was much better behaved this time, only hopping a couple of times over the whole passing/being passed thing and then really settling in after the first mile or so (versus the first 6 miles at Bumble Bee). She really does get better and more mature with every ride.

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walking over to the start…so excellently matchy-matchy

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heading out at the start…oh, look, it’s part giraffe.

We were sitting about middle of the pack for the first couple of miles, but then the trail quickly turned into deep, uphill sand wash…which neither Yankee or Liberty are legged up for doing much by way of speed work in. So we walked. And people passed us. And we walked some more. We hit some nicer sections of double-track road where we were able to move out…but neither Liberty nor Yankee were feeling particularly like being the Brave Leader, so did a lot of yo-yoing back and forth where one would surge ahead, then the other…it was like riding equine bumper cars.

It was during one of these trotting sections in a not-as-deep sand wash that Liberty started doing a mild-but-consistent head bob on her left front. (Remember, it was her RH she was off on at Bumble Bee.) Uggghhhh. Gina noticed that her boots had accumulated quite a bit of sand, even some small rocks jammed down in the front toe flap, pushing the shell forward and creating the same effect on the captivator as over-tightening the cables would do — pressure on the bulbs and somewhat limiting the movement of the captivator. Apparently I’ve got two horses that are “particular” about their preferred model of boot/captivator.

I pulled the offending boot off, climbed back on…and she trotted off sound. Riiiiggggghhhhtttt…memo to self: “Viper shells and captivators only on this horse from now on.”

Shortly after this point, we pulled off the trail to let a couple of people pass us, and as the last horse passed by, she kicked out and nailed Yankee right in the chest! Seriously?!? What next?!?

Fortunately, Yankee seemed fine, but we took our time, just to make sure — because of course right after this we would be leaving the wash and heading up some very rocky, technical climbs. After climbing out of the wash, there was a water stop/number check. Neither horse drank here, although Liberty drank a little bit at the first water stop (~3 miles in).

Heading out from the water stop, I managed to get Liberty to stay in front for more than twenty feet of trotting…and then all of a sudden she bobbled and started three-legged hopping, kicking out with her right hind leg. I immediately jumped off, and as far as we could tell, it looked like Yankee had crowded her from behind and possibly stepped on her hind boot. Again, this was her “off at Bumble Bee” leg, so I don’t know if it could have been something to do with the weird split that had developed between her frog and bulb (best we could tell at BB, a rock got under her captivator), or what was going on.

So now her hind boots got removed, and I was going to take her totally barefoot. (At the speeds we were going, that was hardly my biggest concern. She also has amazing, rock-crushing hooves from growing up in the desert and running on acreage her entire life.) I hand-walked her for a bit, probably about half a mile, just to make sure she was okay, before climbing back on.

Just when you think, “okay, we’re in the clear, right?”…Gina and Yankee are leading, heading up another technical, very rocky and steep climb that involves cutting a sharp right and then left to stay on the trail and out of the worst of the rocks. Only Yankee doesn’t cut right, but tries to just go left, over-corrects, does a “four legs in eight directions” flail, gathers himself up enough to get back on the trail…and then does it again. Liberty isn’t fazed by any of this, but when we get to the top of the hill, Yankee is off on one of his front legs. Nothing obvious, but he’s ouchy.

So we get off and start hand-walking again. Yankee isn’t improving, so Gina tells me “get back on and keep going, you don’t need to stay with me.”

Easier said than done, since Liberty has had very little solo training time, and never at a ride. Well, what’s a ride other than on-the-job training, right?

I got Liberty trotting away, but every time we would get out of eyesight of Yankee, she would slam to a stop and wait until she could see him again, then get moving. Needless to say, we were not making great progress until we hit a spot of shared trail with the 50s, and I was able to catch a tow from a couple of friends, enough to get us moving and for Liberty to realize “not alone out here. Maybe not going to die.” (Thanks, Cathy and Elaine, for letting me tag along!)

The shared trail split off at that point, but we had gotten far enough ahead of Yankee that Liberty was rolling along nicely…and the internal compass was pointed “due camp.” Photographers John and Sue Kordish were set up along this loop, and for the first time, Libby didn’t even pause to stare at them…so I got some nice trotting action photos of us!

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photo: Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography 

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photo: Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography 

Shortly after passing Sue, the trail opened up to this fairly smooth, wide, level dirt road…and I got to do something I’ve been dying to do…canter Liberty. In the past, I’ve been tempted, but have held back, not wanting her to learn too early on that canter was an acceptable option, especially during the start and early-on ride excitement. I am also not brave when it comes to cantering new/strange horses…it is the gait where I feel the least secure and comfortable, like I can be all-too-easily off-loaded if they spook or buck…but now, the timing felt right.

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photo: Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Fortunately, she has apparently been trained in the standard canter cue (sit, kiss, little bit of rein, use one heel to cue) and moved right into this lovely, rolling canter.

*cue heavenly choir of angels singing*

She has one of the most wonderful canters I’ve ridden. Smooth, powerful, efficient…and perfectly controllable. And completely business-like — it was like she just locked onto the trail and had no interest in anything other than steadily moving forward. I have a feeling I will be working her up to this and utilizing it to great effect in the future.

We cantered for probably less than a quarter mile, then I broke her down to a trot to navigate through some rough areas, and then when the trail spit us onto the big dirt road leading to camp, I got one more canter in. (Super pleased with how responsive she was…and it didn’t make her rushy or at all race-brained to be allowed to move out…she came right back to a trot and walk as soon as I asked.)

So I basically power-trotted and cantered the last mile into camp, and hopped off right at the gate and hand-walked in the last 100′ or so to the in-timer. (Y’know…”how to bring a horse in nice-n-easy for pulsing down…”) I let her drink while I sponged her, and then she insisted on being allowed to munch on some of the alfalfa and bran mash that was sitting right there…so by the time I got her sponged and she got her initial munchies fulfilled, it took 5 minutes to pulse. I had the volunteer check her right when we came in and she was up at 80, then dropped to 70, hung there for a minute…and then when she checked her again a minute later, she had dropped to 52. (Criteria was 60, I believe. Or 64. Maybe 64 was the finish?)

She vetted out with all As — and was better behaved this time, although she still didn’t like the vet messing with her mouth. Her trot-out was excellent and she stayed right with me and didn’t use my feet for target practice.

Back at the trailer, I was surprised to see the corral was empty, and figured Kirt was maybe taking Wicked out for a walk around camp to keep her from missing her buddies. Well, I was partially right…he ended up saddling her up and taking her out on the fun ride! (Which was the same trail as loop 1 of the LD.) So Liberty had to stand at the trailer, all by herself, and alternate between drinking, eating, pawing, and screaming for her lost BFF. (And the learning experiences just keep on coming.)

I got her a bucket of water and flake of alfalfa, sponged a little more of the sweat off of her, and left her to her own devices for a little bit while I refilled my water pack, used the bathroom, and grabbed some lunch for myself. I took a couple of minutes of downtime to send a quick text update to friends/family, then got back to work: swapping out the curb strap on the hackamore, fishing my riding crop out (I knew we would need the  extra encouragement if we were going to do the second loop all by ourselves), and re-booting her with Vipers on her fronts.

Gina got back with Yankee partway through my hold — the vet had taken a look and hadn’t found anything on his leg that would indicate tendon or ligament involvement, so it was likely that he probably tweaked something in his fetlock area. Gina said the vet had pulled a large, inch-long thorn out of Yankee’s leg as well (probably from a crucifixion thorn bush, fairly common to the area, with thorns that are larger/sturdier than cactus spines).

Liberty was good about walking away from camp — we had about 3 minutes to wait at the out-timer, and she did some circling and calling at that point, but with a little “hand on the halter and point in the right direction” assist from Gina, we got out on the trail — trotted out of camp, woohoo!! Which lasted all of 100 yards before we saw 50s coming in from one of their loops, and she had to stop, scream, and try to go with them. A couple of solid whacks with the crop got her persuaded that listening to me was the better idea, and he headed out on Loop 2A. There were more parts in this loop where we were able to move out — nice single-track running atop ridgelines — and then more technical climbs in and out of some big washes.

Towards the end of this loop, we encountered Kirt and Wicked on a section of shared trail. What are the odds, right? Of course, neither mare wanted to separate from the other, so we both ended up jumping off and walking our recalcitrant mares away from each other down our respective trails. I ended up having to hand-walk Liberty for about half a mile before she stopped her screaming and twirling (with several “discussions” along the way about respecting personal space) and I was able to get back on and keep jamming down the trail.

To pick up the second part of the loop (Loop 2B) we had to cross in front of the ranch — more fun convincing the big mare that we were *not* going down the same in-trail we had earlier. Once I got her un-stuck and past that point, we swung by the water trough that was out and she drank well — impressive for her still being mentally keyed up and wanting to join her buddies — and then started into the second part of the loop.

We passed photographer Sue again, and then almost immediately, a cluster of 50s come up on us. Very good news for us: It was Stephanie DuRoss and her group, and they didn’t have any problem with me falling in with them and catching a tow for the next several miles of shared trail. (Thank you, Taylor, Steph, and Kecia!) Another excellent learning experience: Liberty had to be the caboose in a train of strange horses that she didn’t know, and had to choose to either act like a grown up and follow them, or end up on her own again (remember her “omg, stange horses, I must bounce up and down and act like I don’t know what another horse is” antics from Bumble Bee?). She decided that New Friends were a very good thing indeed and it was a sad time when our shared trails parted ways and we had to go forth on our own yet again.

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photo Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography 

We did some pretty good climbing, basically cross-country, and I’d coax a bit of a trot out of her on smooth sections here and there, but basically we walked. At about 2.8-3mph. Speed demons, us. ;) I also started singing at this point as a way to keep both of our spirits up…it’s a good thing we were alone, since I’m not exactly musically gifted.

Eventually the single-track spit us down and around into a large wash, but shallower and running slightly downhill, so we were able to get into a pretty good trot rhythm. I have pretty good navigational and “point of reckoning” skills, and I knew camp was basically on the other side of the hills we were winding our way through…so when we came upon one of the number checkers, I asked how far we were from camp…”oh, probably another 45 minutes to an hour.”

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so much sand wash

Oh. So much for the hope that the ride would “measure short” and we were just around the corner from being done.

We had about 20 minutes left on the clock as this point, so I knew we weren’t going to make it, time-wise…which totally took the pressure off. Sure, we weren’t going to finish in time, but we were going to stay out there and finish the course.

Once out of the washes, we went through a really pretty section of single-track that wound through some trees and grass before spitting us out into a big open flat field with the single-track cutting straight through it, leading to the next water stop. It was here that Liberty had her one big spook of the whole ride…at a century plant next to the trail. She did a pretty impressive sideways spook with about a quarter of a spin…enough to just slightly unseat me, but a handful of mane braids (and the fact she stopped) kept me in place, she got a boot in the side for her troubles, and we proceeded onward to the water tank.

It was a Super Scary water stop, with a windmill and shed and lots of stuff right around the trough, but she stopped and really tanked up. There’s a rough formula of ~30 swallows = 1 gallon (give or take, depending on horse size and gulp capacity), so just for fun, I counted her swallows…ended up being right around 50 swallows, so she had almost 2 gallons in one go! Gooooooood mare! (She is really good at EDPP on trail…very self-preserving and takes care of herself and her rider. That right there is solid gold.)

We had to “tiptoe” past the old building and wooden corrals, and then I let her walk for a few minutes after her large drink. Finally, finally, the trail turned back towards camp, and we got some more forward motivation…that lasted until we encountered the Dead Barrel Cactus of Doom laying right next to the trail. Since we were surrounded by cholla, and there was no good “go around” option, we stood there quietly until she inched her way past it, step by step. After that, we kind of hit our wall, as the trail was very twisty and turny, rocky, and lined with enough cholla that trotting didn’t seem like an  inviting option.

So we walked. And we walked. And we walked some more. I worked my way through a pack of Clif energy ShotBlocks and drained the rest of my water pack. A few short trot bursts through sand and some flatter stuff, but more up and down cross-country rocky stuff, now heading away from camp…and then crossing a bit of trail from the morning…and more up-down-rocks…and then back on shared trail from loop 2A. Shared trail + directly heading towards camp = motivated trot, and we trotted the last mile or so back in to camp.

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out trudging on our own…

We were so overtime (by about an hour) but I still treated our finish like we were still in the game: come in, let her drink and eat while I pulled her saddle and sponged her down, and got her pulse (pulsed down to 60 in just a couple of minutes, impressive with it being as warm as it was, and her being a dark, still-fluffy, large-bodied horse), and then took her over to vet out.

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photo Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

She finished with all As (still didn’t like the vet handling her mouth, *sigh*) and a lovely trot-out, and then she got to chow down on the lovely bran mash + carrots provided by the ride for a few minutes while I sponged her off a little more (and then flopped the saddle back on her, since we were parked a ways away and it’s still not *that* light) and then we headed back to the trailer.

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vet card: lunch check and finish

She got to rejoin her BFF in their corral, I committed the grave crime of electrolyting her again, and then afterwards, I flopped down on a lounge chair with a water bottle in one hand, cold beer in the other, and plenty of snacks, and regaled Kirt and  Gina with our Tales of Being On Our Own and Not Dying. After the beer ran out and I’d put a dent in the food supply, I headed over to the ranch bathrooms where they have lovely permanent showers. (Living quarters are really nice, but the perk of permanent bathrooms at a facility is you don’t have to worry about draining the water tank or running out of hot water, so if they’re there, I will use them.) I washed a ton of trail dust and sweat off, changed into fresh, clean clothes, and headed back to the trailer for a bit before ride dinner.

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post-ride consumption of the food and water

I really have to give a nod to ride management at this ride. They provided some excellent perks, including dinner both nights, the volunteers were friendly and helpful, the trail markings were fabulous…it was just the trail itself that wasn’t entirely practical for endurance competition purposes, and management has already expressed a desire to take into account any constructive feedback and use that for the betterment of the trails for next year. (And kudos to the ride attendees: Everyone I have talked to or have seen feedback from has remained polite, courteous, and provided appropriate constructive criticism, versus just complaining and bitching. So good job, all around.)

That grilled hamburger dinner tasted delicious (and I really liked not having to cook), and it looked like a decent number of people stayed around for dinner/awards. We had planned from the beginning to stay Saturday night, so we had time to socialize and catch up with people before retiring back to the trailer for hot chocolate and cookies, and eventually bed.

I crashed hard until about 7, when sunrise and quiet horse murmurings pulled me out of the sleeping bag. I appeased the starving herd, then fortified myself with coffee. Liberty looked great — legs cool and tight, no back soreness (!!! and there hadn’t been any when we finished), bright-eyed, and most important: still talking to me. Yankee was back to normal — while I was out on the second loop, Gina had taken a closer look and found another thorn pretty deeply embedded in his fetlock, and once she removed that, he immediately started moving better and was completely fine by morning.

We did some hoof/boot consultations (Kirt have me one of those “show me what you’ve learned” tests by having me evaluate the hoof and what I would adjust on the trim…I passed with flying colors, which is always nice to hear since I tend to second-guess and doubt my abilities and skills when it comes to hooves and trimming) and slowly started to pack things up. Gina and I took the horses for a walk around camp, then loaded up and hit the road.

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nomming camp leftovers with Wicked

I swear, the road going out was almost worse than coming in, but I had good music on the radio, and a happy sense of success and fulfillment after a dynamite weekend, so the drive home went fast, and I was back by early afternoon to be greeted by my very excited Terrier Greeting Committee.

I am so, SO proud of this mare, I could just burst. She has not done very much training solo, and never at a ride. This is only my fourth time riding her, so she really doesn’t know me that well…and this was only the third time I would take a horse through a ride by myself. (The first was Mimi’s and my first 25, the second time was when I took Beamer on an LD at McDowell — both times on horses I knew very well and had spent a lot of time around.)

I felt so safe and comfortable on her. She’s sensible, not over-reactive, and keeps her head even when fairly stressed (such as leaving or meeting-and-leaving buddies). She never blew up, and she wasn’t even what I would consider particularly spooky. She’s got a stubborn streak that definitely shows up, particularly when she needs a mental break, and a walk that’s slower than a sloth dripped in peanut butter crawling over a glacier…but those are things that will be improved on with time. (And her trot and canter make up for her walk…and in-hand, she walks out quite nicely, so she can learn to do it.)

I don’t think of myself as particularly brave, but in this case, there wasn’t any second thoughts about heading out by ourselves. This horse and I feed off each other — she gives me confidence, she challenges me in all the right ways, and she makes me want to be the best version of the horsewoman I can be.

That was the longest 25 I’ve ever done, but it was worth taking whatever time we needed to make sure we both had a good experience. Liberty will for sure have a long, slow distance base on her, and all of her rides thus far (with the exception of the Bumble Bee pull) have had her on the trail for 6 or so hours, so she’s never learned the “race fast and you’re done in two hours” mentality…to her, you’re always on the trail for 6+ hours, so while moving up in distance will be a change, the longer time out on the trail won’t be as much of an adjustment. (It’s unconventional as a training method but maybe it’ll work?)

So, a Gold Star weekend for both of us, and one more building block layer in Creating a Distance Horse.

Ride Story: Lead-Follow at Bumble Bee 25 2016

Well, that didn’t go according to plan. Up to this point in my endurance career, I’ve been very fortunate: my only pulls have been rider option or overtime.

This was my first real vet pull — lameness. Liberty and I got through the first 16-mile loop…and got pulled for “something” in the right hind. The good news is there’s no heat or swelling, and she didn’t seem sensitive or touchy, so I’m hoping it’s something minor. And was perfectly sound again Sunday morning, and went blasting around the arena at Bumble Bee Ranch to prove it. (Thinking muscle, since she was stiff walking away from the trailer after standing for a few hours in the afternoon, but walked out of it after a dozen strides, or maybe a lack of electrolytes?)

It was a rocky, technical trail, with a few “not watching my feet” stumbles, coupled with the fact that in-between the rocky areas, we had to do some moving out…probably a little more than she was ideally ready for.

But that aside, I was really, really happy with the rest of the day and how well Liberty did.

I procured a rental car Friday morning, stuffed it with half the contents of my garage, and headed out about noon. Bumble Bee is only about an hour and half from my house — ended up a little closer to two hours with some of the Phoenix traffic.

I love the Bumble Bee Ranch basecamp. Total luxury with bathrooms, showers, permanent corrals you can rent, and a nice, flat, wide open field for basecamp. Once there, I got myself checked in for the ride, as well as settling up with the ranch for corrals and the overnight camping fees. (Super reasonable — $10 for the first corral, $5 for the second, and $10 for dry camping, all per night.)

I spent part of the afternoon socializing and getting caught up with people while waiting for Kirt and Gina to arrive with horses. They made good time out of Kingman and were there with plenty of time for us to unload the horses and walk them around camp before vetting in.

The last time I saw Liberty was this ride two years ago, but it was like hardly any time had gone by. Maybe I’m just anthropomorphizing here, but I like to think Big Mare likes me…and she totally brings out my inner 8-year-old child that likes to squeal with delight and festoon the pony with glitter and neon colors.

Liberty’s a bit of a “work in progress” when it comes to her ground manners – she likes to shove at you with her nose, and fling her head around, so she got a fingernail poke to her muzzle (several times) for her troubles. She was really good for the vet, though – stood politely, didn’t fuss about having her legs handled, and didn’t mind having her mouth opened and examined. And she actually trotted through the trot-out versus her impressive cantering in-hand last time.

She vetted in with all As, although her 44 pulse was higher from what it has been in the past…probably in response to her “best friends” being in different places…but that’s how she learns and eventually settles.

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All A’s…good start

Because someone (Liberty…) has been known to dig holes to China when tied to the trailer, we opted to rent corral spaces from the ranch, and stashed the horses (Liberty, Gina’s horse Yankee, and Liberty’s pasturemate Wicked) in there overnight. As much as I like having them at the trailer, there’s a part of me that doesn’t miss listening to boinging hi-ties and clattering buckets all night long.

Liberty got to ground-tie via the “grass to graze on” method while I worked on detangling her mane (long, thick, silky, and forms the most impressive witchy-knots ever), then once she was all beautiful and tangle-free, they got stashed in the corrals, and we headed over for dinner and the ride meeting.

Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a good spread of spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, and Caesar salad, plus brownies and ice cream for dessert. I stuffed my face, in-between socializing and catching up with people, and then the ride meeting started.

The trail was the same as two years ago (two loops, first was 16 miles and the second 9 miles, with an hour hold in-between), pulse criteria was 64 at the hold, 60 at the finish. Pink ribbons to mark the trail, orange ribbons to mark the turns, don’t cross the flour lines.

I had pretty much packed and organized my saddle before leaving home – just had to stick my vet card and map in there, and then debate over which saddle pad to use after an interesting discussion with Kirt over the pros and cons of the various pad inserts.

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Liberty’s boots ready for the morning — being a materials and color testing guinea pig meant looking like a bit of a mismatch

The last time I did this ride, we started late, and I was determined not to make that mistake again, so set the alarm for 5:30 to give myself 2 hours before the start. Friday night sleep before a ride is a pretty elusive thing for me, and this time was no exception…lots of “drift off, wake up” on and off throughout the night, but eventually the alarm went off and I crawled out of bed, dressed, then headed over to the pavilion where they had coffee available all night long. (And heated bathrooms. Like I said, luxury.)

Breakfast was a quick affair – coffee, a cranberry cereal bar, and a string cheese, and then we brought the horses back over to the trailer to tack up. Working for a boot company (and riding their horse) means being an in-field guinea pig test subject…and we had the mis-matched boots to prove it. Yes, we’re testing some new colors.

Liberty is so nice and calm for things like tacking up…just stands still and quiet and doesn’t fuss or fidget. (And no pawing!) She was also really good about having her hind legs handled/booted (she’s been “quick” about that in the past where she snatches her leg up really fast and isn’t patient about holding it up). I had to do some major fiddling with her headstall to get the s-hackamore to fit well – I’m actually running into the same problem with her as I do with Mimi, and that is too short of head length to fit the hackamore and halter both on and still have chinstrap clearance/functionality but not have the noseband too low. Ah, well…something to mess with in the future, and maybe look at something that is custom sized for her particular dimensions.

Even with all of my fiddling, we still had a buffer of about 10 minutes, so mounted up and started making our way over to the start line. Liberty had one “Uh, I don’t know about this moment” in which she very gracefully turned around and tried for a swift exit back to the trailer – very smooth and barely even broke into a trot – so I just laughed, took lots of deep breaths, and walked her back towards the starting area. Once we started moving she really settled, then stood quietly at the start area while we checked in and gave our numbers.

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I am still the 8-year-old little girl that hugs her pony. photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

There wasn’t a controlled start for the 25s, so we let the first half a dozen people light out of their with their butts on fire, and then no one else seemed to be in a major rush, so we made our way our down the lane around camp and through the ranch barnyard. This was a major sticking point two years ago for us – 15 minutes to get by all the tractors, equipment, and GOATS. This year, she eyeballed everything, and sort of danced her way by the goat pen, but she didn’t balk and we made it through at a nice walk, even a bit of trotting.

I wanted to get her out and get her moving down the trail, which we did for about the first mile, and then I backed her off and Gina put Yankee out front. Last time, Liberty had Issues with being behind Wicked, and would start crowhopping and bucking when she was behind…but she also didn’t necessarily want to be brave and go in front, and it was only with extreme pedaling that I got her going. This time, I wanted to see what she would do…and then deal with it as necessary.

She did have some “happy feet” moments, mostly related to Yankee out-trotting her, especially on more of a downhill, but she was totally controllable, and it was more sheer enthusiasm than any kind of dirty tricks, maliciousness, fear, or rodeo-bronc impressions. In short: very rideable. (Especially with a nice handful of that thick mane.) She also gives pretty good warning, so I was able to catch her usually on the first hop, and have her head popped up and heel dug into her side, so she never got to stop, nor did she get to go faster or get ahead.

It took probably about 5 or 6 miles for her to settle in, but unlike last time, we were in the thick of the pack of 25s, as well as 50s re-joining shared trail. We were so far behind last time, we really didn’t have to deal with anyone passing us or needing to pass. This time, we did. This has been a questionable area for us in the past – Liberty has something of a “happy feet” reputation and I’ve been super-diligent about never giving her the opportunity to try any kicking or naughtiness.

Gina describes her as “unsocialized” with other horses, since she usually rides her alone, or with maybe one other person, so all of these new horses had Liberty more amped up, especially coming into communal areas like water troughs…but she stayed perfectly controllable. She had a couple of moments where, when passing someone, she tried to get in one of her crowhops, but I never felt like she was targeting the other horse or actively kicking out. Definitely progress. At one point, Yankee even rear-ended her while we were on a single-track trail, and all she did was pin her ears. Good girl.

The first half of loop one is a mix of sand wash and double-track dirt road – a good place to make time. The second half is the fun part – about 7 or so miles of single-track on the Black Canyon Trail. Lots of twists, turns, bits of rock and some technical stuff…and one of my favorite trails. This was the part I had been saving Liberty’s mental energy for, and Gina and I traded spots for Liberty and I to move up to the front.

She was just a little hesitant at first, and then she spied some horses gradually approaching behind us, and she locked onto the trail and kicked it into gear. This was the best. time. ever. and probably one of my favorite moments thus far of riding this mare.

I didn’t even pull out my camera this time – too “in the zone” to want to mess with it, I guess.

She did some really smart footwork, no spook, no hesitation, just locked on and solid. There were a few moments in some of the rocky areas that we had to have some “discussions” about slowing down and paying attention to one’s feet. (But her toes were also a little long, too.) I had changed out the standard curb chain on her s-hack to a solid beta one, as she just seemed a little fussy and sensitive to the “bite” of the chain. That did the trick in that she didn’t do any head tossing or slinging under saddle this time, and while I had to be a little stronger with her at times, I was able to have more contact with her face without her dropping off the contact or going behind the vertical to get away from the chain. Again, headgear will be something interesting to play with in the future, as she needs some work on bending, giving, unlocking her shoulders, and *using* that wonderful rear end for things like turns and pivots. (Thinking some “back to basics” snaffle work, and then maybe into a Myler Combination bit.)

The last section of trail into camp is super-fun – a large sand wash with an actively running (ok, trickling) stream. Last time, Liberty only went into the water after her pasture-mate did…this time, Yankee was the one eyeing the water and Liberty was the one who bravely splashed through.

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dropping down into the wash back to camp. photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

Photographer Susan Kordish and her husband John usually set up around this area and get some amazing photos – it is such a pretty spot that I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about “photos that look the same.” (Which, if you think about it, can be sort of asinine – photos taken in certain spots at certain rides become “iconic” versus “the same” – how many people complain about “oh, another Cougar Rock photo”? People start to know the Bumble Bee photos because of the uniqueness of that much water in the middle of the desert, versus “just another landscape of cactus and rocks.” Ok, soapbox moment over.)

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down in the wash (water wimps are taking advantage of the grassy bank). photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

This year was no exception, and I came  away with yet another photo I’m calling “my favorite ride photo.” I don’t know what her secret is, but Susan is 3/3 now in producing at least one stunner of a photo from every ride Liberty and I have done together.

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I love this photo. So much. Just makes me smile to see it. photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

This section was another area where Liberty demonstrated she had really grown up in the course of two years – there’s a large section of the wash that is dry sand, topped with dry, crunchy, rustling leaves. Liberty is super-sensitive to rustling types of noises (high reactive to the possibility of snakes, as she comes out of a snake-infested area) and two years ago, we tiptoed through this area, as anything more than that threated to set her off. This year, she trotted through the wash, spraying sand on the leaves and not giving even an ear flick.

She also paused in the middle of the wash to relieve herself with a nice big pee in the soft, fluffy sand. Yay for peeing under saddle.

Right when we were entering the ranch again after exiting the wash, Liberty gave me her one true spook of the entire ride – we had just tiptoed past a cattle guard, giving it a healthy side-eye, and she was now fixated on the large metal horse sculptures next to the road when a pickup truck popped up behind us and she did a hard spook about five feet to the side and really slammed her feet into the ground.

We proceeded to make our way around camp and back to the same lane we had gone out on, and in an effort to save some time and avoid a “Horses Who Stare At Goats” incident, I hopped off and started leading her on foot through the yard and down the lane. At one point, I had her in a slow jog, and out of the corner of my eye, saw her head dip a time or two…but she was also jostling with Yankee for a spot on the road, and looking at all the ridecamp activity, and we were in a crowd of other people and horses, so I didn’t think much of it.

Her under-saddle walk might be slow, but we made some time on foot, even passing a few people coming into the check. She got a quick drink while I loosened her girth and got my in-time card (in at 10:09AM), and by the time that was done and we went to get her pulsed in, she was already down to 60. Total time: two minutes.

There was only one other person ahead of us in the vet line, so we went over to vet right away. Again, she vetted really well – one B on skin tenting, the rest As, and good gut sounds…but when we went to trot off, she didn’t want to immediately trot…took me until about ¾ of the way down the trot lane to get her to trot. So when we got back to the vet, he asked to see her trot again. She trotted that time, but when we got back, the vet didn’t look particularly thrilled…said she was knuckling over weird on her right hind fetlock.

Kirt pulled Liberty’s boots off, in case there was anything in there, I swapped her reins to her halter instead of her s-hack for less head interference, the vet got one of the other vets to watch, and we trotted a third time. Apparently still something there, although she was still trying to enthusiastically run over me on the way back. (More things to work on: in-hand trotting manners.) They held my vet card for a re-check at the end of the hour hold, although one of the vets said that if she looked the same at the end of the hour, he wasn’t going to let me go back out, because she was borderline between grade 1 and 2.

I did a really good job holding it together until after we got back to the trailer and I had Liberty settled in front of a hay bag, bridle off, and fleece blanket on her butt. I started poking and prodding, massaging her rump muscles, feeling for any tight spots or sensitive areas. I eventually worked my way down to her lower legs…and completely freaked out when I felt a warm spot on the inside of her leg above the fetlock. Lost it, right then and there…absolute flood of waterworks, since I assumed the worst and figured I had broken her. Not even my horse yet, and I had already managed to break her.

Sane and rational Gina came over, felt the area, reached over to the other leg and felt the corresponding area, and gently pointed out that the sides of her legs that were facing the full sun were both equally warm.

Oh.

Dark horse + sun exposure = warm hair.

Kirt and Gina shooed me away to go take care of myself and get food/hydration while Kirt worked on giving Liberty a full hind-end massage and stretch. So I grabbed string cheese and grumble-texted my core group of endurance buddies about our current state. I did kind of a poor job of eating – I think I’m regressing in my self-care abilities, or I was just too distracted/worried to think properly – but I managed a string cheese, an energy bar thing, an applesauce, and the rest of my green juice from the morning.

Ten minutes before our out time, Kirt put Liberty’s front boots back on, I put her s-hack on, and we walked over to the vet area. One more trot-out , and the vets concurred with their earlier assessment – subtle, but “something” off on the right hind, enough that they didn’t feel comfortable letting us go out for that second, very rocky and technical, loop.

And just like that, I got my first actual vet pull at an endurance ride. (Overtime or rider option in the past.)

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Really great…up until the lameness pull

Gina and Yankee went back out for the second loop (she apologized for leaving me, I told her don’t even think about not going back out there) and Liberty and I headed back to the trailer. Liberty was a little confused, and she hollered a few times for Yankee, but she was very well-behaved – no pacing, twirling, fidgeting, or pawing. I gave her a pellet mash and a hay bag, and let her munch while I untacked her and set to work giving her a sponge bath. (Yay, desert in January and a high of 70* means you get the sponge off the sweaty, dirty, endurance horse.)

Gina and Yankee made it back in from their second loop in time (with about a minute to spare…) and passed the vet check with flying colors. We got him all taken care of and cleaned up, then the horses got to go back over to their corrals and relax for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Bumble Bee Ranch is such a nice place to relax and hang out that we had decided ahead of time to stay over Saturday night, and maybe ride again Sunday morning. Obviously, I wasn’t going to ride Liberty the day after a lameness pull…however, we did turn them out in the big arena and they proceeded to run around like lunatics…and Liberty was 100% sound.

Oh, well…at least whatever the vets saw turned out to be minor.

So Sunday morning turned into some nice relaxation and quiet time, basking in the sunshine and 60-something-degree weather, before eventually packing up camp, loading the horses, and heading for our respective homes.

The pups were ecstatic to see me (you’d think they’d been neglected all weekend long…never mind that my parents absolutely dote on them), stuff got flung from the car back to where it (mostly) belongs, stinky laundry sorted, and sore muscles got treated to a hot shower.

So: obviously, a somewhat disappointing weekend what with getting pulled/thinking I broke the horse. I probably didn’t, but I’m part Russian: I’m honor-bound to feel guilty. However, there were also some really good moments, like: realizing how much Liberty has matured mentally in two years, and what an absolute rockstar she was; her little happy feet crowhopping moments don’t scare me, and I can ride them out instead of turning into a helpless, clinging, limpet-monkey; I got to spend time with her and discover she has quite the personality on her – very affectionate, has a major sense of humor, and is even downright silly at times, especially for a mare.

Hoping I get to do another upcoming ride with her, but as always, I’m pretty much playing my schedule by ear and seeing what happens…

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One last selfie before I gotta say goodbye…

Up next: The analysis of what worked/what didn’t/gear.