My Favorite Things: Rides

My Favorite Things: A series of my favorite things of different categories, less formal than a review and more conversational musings. Everything from rides, to tack, to food, to apparel, all following a “Top Three” format. Also, because I’m me, and I’m known for changing my perspective and opinion of such things as favorites from year to year, some of these topics may end up revisited…more than once.

It was hard for me to narrow down my favorite rides, especially limiting myself to the Top Three. I can pretty easily narrow down two…but that third one I just may have to leave as a “rotating space” for now.

Virginia City 100 (Sept 2017)
It’s probably my favorite ride to date, even with not finishing. Yes, that’s how good everything else was to basically negate the Overtime pull. It’ll always be special because it was my first 100-miler attempt. It was a leap of faith, with an uncertain outcome, and I’m still proud of myself for attempting it and taking that chance, even if all the stars didn’t align for a finish.

(FWIW, 100-mile hallucinations are real. I saw land bridges and Easter Island heads.)

VC just has the best atmosphere. Given that it was the 50th anniversary ride when I rode it, it was larger that usual, with over 70 entries…but normal years has entries usually between 40-50 people, which makes for a very laid-back, more intimate type of ride. I love that it’s a 100 only, so everyone in camp to ride is there to do that ride and that distance. Kind of hard to describe, but it gives it a different feeling than other rides.

Yeah, the rocks suck. Coming from Arizona, I’m fairly used to rocks, and many claims of areas being rocky elicit merely an eyebrow raise from me. This one earned the double eyebrows and a few colorful words at opportune moments. That said, I also has the fortune (?) to ride it during “one of the worst footing years to date” thanks to some epic rain/snow earlier in the year that decided to rearrange most of the trail footing and rocks.

But the scenery is gorgeous, and I love how different the Nevada high desert is from my own. The multiple, but not excessive, loop format (50, 26, 24) isn’t as intimidating (or hard to coordinate) as a point-to-point trail, but the loops aren’t so short/frequent that you feel like you’re just doing a merry-go-round of repeat loops around camp. There’s also very little shared trail (and you’re usually in the dark most of the times you’re on it, so does that even count?), and the sections that are shared are the ones you’re happy with because they’re of the “back to camp” variety that makes for happy horses who know where they’re going.

Plus, they feed you well (steak for breakfast, cookies at one of the water stops), and you can get finisher’s buckles. I really want one of those pretty buckles, darn it. One of these years…

Strawberry Fields Forever (June 2018)
Well, Flash, for starters. Hard not to enjoy any ride I’ve done on him. The Strawberry ride had been on my “must do” ride bucket list since I started endurance, so I was super excited to finally get to experience it. The scenery is out of this world amazing. Think “Sound of music” minus the singing nuns. Grass, aspens, an amazing array of micro-climates and vegetation. It’s so different from everything I know that I felt like I was living in a small slice of high elevation, green tree paradise for a few days.

It was also a really good ride experience for me. Flash put me and my horsemanship to the test, since he was feeling very strong and forward on day one. He has his Opinions and doesn’t like to be micro-managed, so he appreciates a certain level of tact and picking one’s battles. I must have done right by him, in his mind at least, since he rewarded me with being sensible and mindful in the technical, tricky stuff.

It was also interesting to experience a pull on day one for thumps, but to be able to work through it, solve the problem, and be cleared to go out again on day two…and then finish that day with a super-strong horse (who probably would have been happy to go day three).

The day two scenery was also gorgeous, and Flash was even more settled, so we had a really enjoyable ride right from the start. He’s also a fun horse to travel with on the road. I also enjoy my road trips, so the scenic, two-day drive up there also doesn’t hurt my feelings. The weekend also involved some of my amazing endurance mentors and friends, and just a ton of fun overall.

The Third Ride
I’m having a tough time narrowing this one down. I look back at my rides and think, “Oh, that one was really fun,” or “That was a major accomplishment,” but I’m not sure one stands out above the rest. Currently in the running are:
Lead-Follow @ Bumble Bee 50 (2018)
Tahoe Rim Ride 50 (2016)
Man Against Horse 50 (2009)
Lead-Follow @ McDowell 75 (2017)

Bumble Bee was excellent because 1) Flash and 2) broke the seeming curse I had in regards to finishing, or even riding, this ride. Had some phenomenal “connected” moments with Flash, and I will never forget how he danced his way up the Black Canyon Trail, with nothing more than a whispered “go get ’em” encouragement to let him know there were horses ahead of us. It was also my first real top ten in a 50, and first time to stand for Best Condition. The only real negative of this ride was figuring out my shoes I was riding in were pretty well shot for padding, and I spent the last 10 miles or so of the ride wanting to cut my feet off at the ankles. But Flash gets a gold star for putting with with several miles of my probably-crappy riding. And the shoes got permanently retired.

Tahoe Rim was a beautiful ride, probably the prettiest I’ve done. It’s also a very challenging ride, so definitely a feather in the cap to finish with a sound, happy horse. It also followed a string of very disappointing pulls at rides, and a badly-needed confidence booster. Roo did really well for me and gave me an excellent ride overall, even if he was being a spooky snot when it came to leading, and we almost parted ways a couple times.

Man Against Horse…probably one of my proudest accomplishments with Mimi. She proved what a tough, game, big-hearted war mare she is when she finished that particular 50. Funny thing is, there were definitely things that didn’t make it an entirely wonderful ride, such as the vet thinking he “might” have seen something in her trot-out at the top of the mountain, and having to re-trot her a couple times. Heart in throat for sure. And my stirrup leathers decide to declare war on my shins, so by the time we were down to the last third of the ride, my shins felt like I had hit knives stabbing into them. But it was one of those “worth any crap along the way” rides in order to get that finisher’s buckle.

McDowell 75 last year was pretty awesome. Not only to be entrusted with a friend’s special horse, but to have it be both his and my first 75, and to finish…and finish well. I fully anticipated needing to take the full time, so to finish mid-pack, with several hours of buffer, was a very pleasant surprise. It was a day that went really smoothly, and I was really pleased with how horse management and pacing went. It was definitely a ride that helped build my own confidence in the “yes, I am a competent endurance rider” department.

So between those four rides, I have a really hard time narrowing it down. I guess I just have to wait for another outstanding ride to come along that tops those four to round out my ultimate Top Three…at least for now.

Ride Story: Grand Canyon XP 2018 Day 1 55

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OT Raemone RSI, Grand Canyon XP Steve Bradley photo

I’ve wanted to attend the Grand Canyon XP ride for years, so when I was offered a catch ride for one of the days this past weekend, I really didn’t have to think too hard about that decision. Held near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the current ride format is 6 days long — two 3-day pioneer rides with one rest day in-between.

This time, my catch ride offer came from Crockett Dumas — he had a 9-year-old mare who was ready to do her first ride and would I be available and interested in riding her? Ooo, yes, please. It’s been several years since I’ve taken a greenie on their first ride, but the few times I’ve done it, I’ve enjoyed it.

It’s a 6-hour drive up to the North Rim for me, so I left out at o’dark thirty on Saturday morning. That is the best time to travel — I’ve never seen I-17 so emtpy — and I made it up to Flagstaff in near-record time. Flagstaff always means a stop at Macy’s, a truly excellent coffee shop that has probably some of the best coffee in the state. Grabbed coffee and breakfast to go, topped off with gas, then hit the road again.

This was the longest road trip I’ve done on the suburban again since probably…2010? The older she got, the shorter and shorter I kept the trips…then the “cascading system failures” of the past 3 years happened, to the point now I think every major component has been replaced (reman engine, rebuilt transmission, new catalytic, a/c repairs, front end work) and it’s like driving a new vehicle again. This would be the ultimate acid test of making sure all those repairs had been work it. Spoiler alert: They were, and I am more than delighted to have that level of road trip freedom at my disposal again.

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As I put on Facebook: “In the words of JRR Tolkien, ‘the road goes ever on.’ Who knew he was talking about road-tripping through Arizona?”

Northern AZ finally got monsoon activity this summer, so the drive up was actually fairly green and pretty, and several fires that had put the status of the ride and trails into question were out (up until a couple days before the ride, the fire crews were camped out in the spot that is normally the ride basecamp). I can’t say I would be overly enamored of taking a rig up through 89-A to get up to the Rim, but in a passenger vehicle, it’s quite a fun drive. I might have grown up in the city, but I love a good twisty, turning mountain road. Not to mention the fact that the temperature was a good 40* cooler than it was back home, and pleasant enough to drive with the windows down. Ah, fresh mountain air…nothing like it.

The current basecamp for the ride is easy enough to get to — only a few miles off the main road, on well-maintained forest service roads, in the spot that serves as the snowmobile play area in the winter, which means solid parking and rigs don’t sink when it rains. (Which it often can…this is AZ high country, which means monsoon season…fortunately, although the clouds built up every day, it didn’t ever rain on us.)

As soon as I pulled in to camp, I got introduced to my ride — OT Raemone RSI, a 9-year-old chestnut mare from Crockett’s long-time Outlaw Trail breeding program. She’d been a broodmare with one 3-yr-old filly on the ground, and Crockett had broken her to saddle earlier in the summer. She was still green, but so far had proven to have good trail sense and a solid nature. There were a lot of firsts for her this weekend…first ride, first camping trip, first time with that many other horses around, first time riding among groups of horses.

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Meeting Nene. All saddled up and ready to go for a pre-ride.

Right from the get-go, I got along well with her. Crockett insists his horses stand politely for mounting, which always goes a really long way towards boosting my confidence — really starts the ride off on the right foot, so to speak, if they’re calm enough to stand quietly. I figured out pretty quickly that “power steering” wasn’t exactly installed, but she was responsive to leg, so I got a great reminder of “soft hands, strong leg” that would continue through the weekend. (Which, face it, I needed that anyway…I can always stand to use less hand and more leg.)

We rode out in a big loop around camp for about an hour, just getting a feel for each other, and getting “Nene” used to being in a group…front, middle, back…as Crockett, Terry, and I all rotated and lepfrogged back and forth. Once back in camp, we wandered through camp and did some horseback socializing. Great exercise in standing politely for the green horse, but as it turned out, she loves people, so she though socializing her way through camp was the best thing ever.

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Getting socialized. She also falls into the Magnificent Mare Ears category.

Vetting in later that afternoon, her trot-out was a bit…erm…inglorious. But given that it was her first time trotting in hand…she gets a pass. Fortunately The Duck was tolerant/understanding of “green horse, first ride,” and I promised to do better the next day. Worked her a little bit on the concept on the way back to the trailer, and she started getting the idea.

At ride briefing, I was super-excited to learn we would be doing part of the Rim Trail the next day. Not every day goes to the canyon, and I was really, really hoping for one of the iconic ride photos taken with the canyon in the background, the same photos I’ve drooled over as I’ve edited them for work promos and displays. If I could only ride one day, at least I would get that wished-for photo!

Ride start was a super-civilized 7am, so I crawled off to bed sometime around 9, and managed a fairly solid 8 hours until the alarm went off around 5. It was a very, very bright full moon that night, and with the large expanses of windows in the suburban, I was woken up a few times by that bright moon shining right into my face. As much as I hate my sleep being disturbed, it’s hard to grumble (too much) about that beautiful of a sight.

My “two hours ahead of ride start” wake-up gives me plenty of time to dress, braid my hair, make coffee, and down some breakfast before it was time to saddle and boot Nene. About 10 minutes before the start, we headed to the perimeter of camp, mounted, and quietly made our way around camp, winding through the trees and giving her things to focus on such as stepping over legs and around trees, taking her mind off of things like the ride start.

We made it over to the ride start after the main pack had left, so just eased onto the trail and headed out at a nice walk, Nene comfortably sandwiched between Crockett and Terry’s horses. We made it probably a good mile of calm walking before horses started to come up on us, and I could feel Nene getting wound up as the other horses went bouncing by, so we headed up into the trees and paralleled the trail, weaving through trees and over logs as groups of riders passed by. That really helped, and we did that several times for the first couple of miles. By the time we hit about 3 miles in, we were in our own little pocket, and Nene was once again mentally focused.

We did a lot of walk-trot-walk-trot for the next several miles,…small bites, letting Nene ease into the day. It was a super low-key way of starting a green horse at a ride, and definitely something I will keep in mind for the future, because it kept the whole experience very positive and no-drama. The trail was lovely — winding through tons of trees, crossing small grassy meadows, mostly-good footing, alternating between some forest roads, then back onto trails.

Nene quickly got the memo about all the grass available on the trail for grazing purposes, and in short order, was picking up on the “grab and go” concept of stuffing her mouth on the fly when directed. At the first water tank we reached, she snorkeled right in and tanked up, and she had no qualms about stopping to pee along the way. And everything that was being stuffed into her mouth was exiting the other end.

The cardinal rule of endurance horse function is EDPP  (Eating, Drinking, Peeing, and Pooping) and she nailed all of them. She was also politely following along behind Crockett’s mare, and I could tell she was doing some “watch and learn” from the experienced horse…but she was also attentive to me and my requests, such as “you wait to trot until I cue you, not go just because the other horse did.” Very smart, very “thinky” mare.

About 13 or 14 miles in, we reached the rim, and our first sighting of the canyon. This was only my second time at the North Rim, and third time to the canyon, and I’d not been this far west before. If you haven’t seen the canyon…it’s hard to put into words. The scope and grandeur of it is just breathtaking, and no photograph can ever do it full justice or capture the feeling of actually being there.

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For several miles, the trail follows the rim, sometimes right along it, other times veering in to skirt around and follow some of the tiny side canyons. And along the way, photographer Steve Bradley was set up to get our photos right along the rim. And we managed to get some excellent “greenie’s first ride photos.”

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Steve Bradley photo

Lunch wasn’t until about 33 miles in, so we really took our time…set a very easy pace, with lots of short walk/trot segments, and plenty of pauses along the way for grass. The open meadow with the lunch hold was a very welcome nice…we walked in and pulsed right down, then settled the horses in front of hay. Nene thought lunch was the best thing ever…she tucked her head right now into my crew bag with the hay into, and barely came up for air. The ride provided lunch for riders, and that tuna sandwich tasted absolutely delicious (I like tuna on a normal basis, but for some reason, it tastes just beyond delightful when I’ve had it at rides). I scarfed my food almost as fast as Nene was hoovering hers (we were a good match, we ate our way through the ride), then took care of my “vet hold chores” like refilling water bottles and replenishing my snack supply on the saddle.

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Along part of the Rim Trail

Nene did great on her vet check, and nailed her trot-out that time. And if she thought it was strange to be pulled away from her hay, made to run back-n-forth, then plopped back in front of her hay, she didn’t show it. Total professional, that one. By this time, I was having a hard time remembering it was her first ride, and even the power steering was coming along to the point that she was even starting to neck rein. (Did I mention ‘smart’?)

The hour hold was more than sufficient, and we were mounted up and ready to go as soon as they waved us out of the check. Leaving lunch, we passed through the old basecamp at Dry Park (which became not-so-dry when it would rain, and rigs had a tendency to then get stuck) and continued along, gradually making our way up a several-mile-long climb up a sort of rocky dirt rock. The trail might not have been particularly fascinating, but I got some impromptu botany lessons in high mountain flora, which kept things a lot more interesting.

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Our conga line of climbing chestnuts

As we wound our way back to camp, we passed through some beautiful aspen groves…dappled shade, with perfect single-track winding through the trees. For a desert rat, this is my idea of a little slice of paradise. (Never mind that Nov-Apr would be a “hard pass” on the snow levels they would get there at 8000′.)

The last 6 or 7 miles was roughly paralleling some small powerlines along a primitive double-track road, and we just kept to the same trot/walk pattern we had been doing, with plenty of grazing stops along the way (Nene was now doing her best “hungry hungry hippo” impression). We also did quite a bit of alternating who was leading/following…Nene truly loves being in the lead, and she’s super-bold and not spooky. She also has a fast walk, and I believe is naturally inclined to have a slightly faster trot speed, although for the sake of both her mental and physical conditioning, I was working on keeping her at a slower, “multi-day” pace while she’s learning.

There was much celebrating when the trail connected back to the same trail we had headed out in the morning…only a couple miles to go! And with a mile to go, we slipped Nene into the lead again, and she proudly marched into camp, all sparkling eyes and flagged tail, still wanting to trot up the hill to the finish. We vetted through right away, with flying colors, acting like she had just been out for a casual stroll versus 55 miles in just under 10 hours ride time.

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55 miles and finished!

I was pleasantly surprised we finished when we did — I was fully expecting to be out there longer, but we still had plenty of time to untack, groom, take care of legs, and make sure they were all settled and tucked in before moseying over to the ride meeting.

Despite some impressive cloud build-up, especially out over the canyon, and some thunder booming and echoing all around, it never did materialize into anything other than a spectacular sunset….for which I’m grateful. I’m still not fond of getting rained on at rides.

It was super-easy to crawl into bed that night, and I stayed pretty much unconscious, bright moon and all, until about 6 the next morning when I staggered out of bed (oooo, sore legs…) and immediately set to mainlining coffee. I did, unfortunately, have to head home that day, so got my little camp all packed up, spent a bit more time socializing with some friends, then reluctantly headed down the road to home.

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I’ve been hoping for a completion mug for a while…I use coffee mugs the most out of just about everything out there.

One stop on the outskirts of Flagstaff to fuel up, and then I was pulling up to my house mid-afternoon…6 hours up, 6 hours back. Quick trip, but well worth it! Nene was a super-fun ride, and I feel very flattered and honored to have been entrusted with her first ride. It went as well as could have ever been hoped for, and Nene got herself a great introduction into the sport. Watch out for this mare in the future…I think she’s going to be one of the good ones.

Thank you to The Duck and Annie for putting on a wonderful ride…I will definitely stay longer next time!!

PS — Still working on my Tevis write-up. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know we didn’t finish, but we had one heck of a good time anyway.

Ride Story: Strawberry Fields Ride 2018

With the countdown at less than 10 days til T-Day, and less than a week until D-for-T (Departure-for-Tevis) Day, I figured I’d better get a move on and get this story out before too much time goes by.

The Strawberry Field Forever ride has been on my bucket list since I started distance riding. Back in 2002, when I had been doing about half a season of NATRC, I went to Mimi’s and my last POA show…the POA Worlds, up in Spanish Fork, UT. It was an almost week-long gig, with only so much for someone who is not showing (aka, “one’s show parents”) to do…so my dad took a couple of days to go up to the Strawberry NATRC ride. Originally his plan was to hang out and visit, but he got drafted as ride photographer. Long story short, he fell in love with the area and the amazing scenery, and we talked for years about how we needed to get up there again and do the ride.

So imagine my delight when I found out there was also an endurance ride up there. Ir’s been on my ride radar for forever, so I was quite ecstatic when Troy contacted me to see if I would be interested in riding Flash for a couple of days at Strawberry this year.

Let’s see…ride I’m dying to do? On a horse I love to ride? Yeeesssssssssssss!!!

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I love this smoochable mug

It’s a two-day drive up to Strawberry from the Phoenix area, so we headed out of the Valley Tuesday afternoon, overnighted at the Mt Carmel basecamp, then drove the rest of the way to camp on Wednesday, arriving in the early afternoon with plenty of time to set up camp and take the boys out for a pre-ride.

Flash is a horse who does best on pretty much daily exercise in some form or another, either on the exerciser or being ridden. He’d just been cooped up in the trailer for the past two days, and was happy to express his opinion about that. That opinion amounted to a couple of half-hearted crowhops and some attempts at jigging, but overall, more of a source of eyerolling and bemused chuckles than anything. Opinions…he’s got ’em.

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Just one pre-ride was enough to make me fall in love with the area.

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Riding through aspen groves…I felt like I was in the middle of a fantasy setting.

Friend Dayna was the absolute best Queen Bee and camp mom for the weekend. She had food, drinks, and more food made for us riders whenever we possibly needed it, made dinner every night, and was a lot of fun to hang out with for the weekend. I’ve long-admired her as a rider, her ability to be competitive, but always with her horses’ best interest at the forefront. I got to pick her brain during some of the weekend downtimes, and got some great riding tips and advice, plus other relatable life stories.

The plan on Thursday was to get another pre-ride in…7-8 miles this time, just to take that final edge off. 15 miles later…the edge was sufficiently off. We were on ribbons the whole time, but just had no frame of reference for exactly where said ribbons went, and ended up going a lot further than intended. Oops?

So, yeah, that was fun…the worst part of it was I had anticipated about a 1-1/2-hour ride, not 3+ hours, so was a little short in the water and especially the food department. But a good free object lesson in being more prepared than you think you need to be, even for a “quick little ride.”

The Strawberry Fields ride is part of the XP Rides, aka the “Duck” rides, put on by Dave “The Duck” Nicholson and his wife Annie. They’re all multi-day rides, with many of them taking place on or near locations that were a part of the original Pony Express route. They tend to be more casual, laid-back type of rides, with a certain degree of self-sufficiency. There’s often only one vet check (which isn’t an uncommon thing for rides here in the SW region anyway), and the trails usually go into more remote areas. More info on their website: XP Rides.

This was actually my first XP ride, and I loved it. I also love the frills rides, though, too. I guess rides are still enough of a novelty to me, even after 14 years, that it takes a lot for me to not enjoy a ride. Check-in and vet-in was super quick, and ride meeting was brief. The only snag was a fire in the close vicinity had closed access to some of the usual trails, so they had to do some last-minute scrambling to pull the trails together.

Basecamp was at ~8000′ elevation, so the weather was decidedly cooler than back down in Phoenix. Friday morning was a bit chilly, and I scuttled around in three layers, finally (reluctantly) shedding my puffy jacket just before mounting up. Flash is such an interesting horse at ride starts. He’s really business-like, so no funny games or shenanigans, but he is so eager to get going that he literally quivers in anticipation any time you stop.

We headed out on the same trail we had pre-ridden the past two days, the single-track trail helping to space out the pack, and we were soon in a small bubble of four or five riders, just easily motoring along. There was a definitely a technical element to some of the trails — rocks, or downed aspen “cavaletti” to step over — so it kept both horse and rider paying attention.

It didn’t take too long before we started climbing. Eventually we would top out at 10,000′, but in the meantime, there was still plenty of trail along the way. Up single-track, along forest roads through a campsite, up more single-track, through some boggy stuff, up more single-track, and finally out to the road that would take us up to 10,000′.

For two mostly flatland horses from Yuma, those boys tackled the climb with good humor, and Flash kept offering to show me just how he could trot all the way to the top. (I declined his offer, numerous times.)

We dropped back down off the top of the peak, wound around on some more forest road, through some more single-track, and back up to another 10,000′ point.

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Can’t argue with those views

We had a couple moments at this point where the trail markings got a bit…sketchy…and we made a couple of overshoots/alternate routes before finally getting on the right track.

This first loop was every bit of 30 miles, so we took time along the way to let the boys stop and graze, and there was enough grass along the way that they both got pretty good at the grab-n-go maneuver.

Flash was on fire the entire loop…he just wanted to go, and we had quite a few discussions about keeping the pace to a dull roar. I knew he was strong — at Bumble Bee, it took until about halfway through the first loop for him to really settled into an agreeable pace — but this was 30 miles in and he was still cranking along like a freight train.

The way in and out of camp, at least for this loop, crossed a creek, which made for a nice place to stop and sponge them before walking in to the vet check. Rather unusually, it took several minutes for Flash to pulse down, even after more sponging and eventually pulling tack, but he did get there.

At the Duck rides, he doesn’t want to see you vet in immediately — you’re asked to wait for at least 30 minutes before vetting, the rationale behind it being that adrenaline from just coming off a loop can mask any potential issues, both lameness or metabolic. Although I’ve always preferred to vet right away and have the rest of the hold uninterrupted, I can understand this particular practice.

I got all of my stuff squared away with what I would need for loop 2 — refill my hydration pack and snacks — and settled in for some delicious lunch offerings from Dayna. (Iced cranberry juice is super refreshing. Need to file that one away for future reference.) Taking care of the boys and grabbing lunch pretty much took up the 30 minutes, so we gathered the boys up and went over to vet.

Flash vetted through well initially…appropriately low pulse, good gut sounds and hydration parameters, trotted great…but after we trotted, the vet looked him over again and said he was thumping. Sure enough, you could see the telltale fluttering back on his flank. So that was our day done, though I left the vet with instructions to give him some electrolytes, extra alfalfa and extra calcium (Tums were suggested as a good source), and bring him back in a few hours — if all was cleared up, we could still ride the next day.

So that was a new one for me…I’ve never directly dealt with thumps before, but after dealing with it, I can say that if I have to deal with any sort of metabolic incident, thumps would be the preferable one, because it’s straightforward enough, fairly easy to clear up, and as long as it’s corrected, doesn’t leave any lingering issues. Basically, it’s caused by an electrolyte imbalance that leads to an irregular spasming of the diaphragm. He’d been on a more minimalist electrolyte protocol, but he’s one of those horses who really benefits from a more aggressive electrolyte regimen.

So Troy and Rymoni went out on loop two, and Flash and I got to play battle of the syringes. But I haven’t battled with the pony on this very same issues for years for nothing, and eventually I got a couple doses of crushed Tums down his gullet. It took maybe an hour and half to totally clear up (by which time Flash was thoroughly sick of me hovering, and giving me the disgusted stink-eye “bug off, lady, and leave me alone” look), so after Troy finished, we gathered up both the boys to go over to the vet. Rymoni was good to go, both for his day’s completion as well as to start the next day, and Flash was thoroughly checked over and declared good to go for day two.

Saturday morning rolled around even chillier, with some wind and cloud cover, with more clouds trying to move in. All that meant I actually left my outer layer windbreaker on, since we would be climbing up to 10,000′ again fairly early on, and it was bound to be even chillier at the top.

The plan was to take it really easy on this day — ease Flash into the day, make sure all systems were go, and regularly electrolyte him. He was strong from the start, but much more biddable than day one when it came to requests to ease off or not incessantly tailgate Rymoni. Fortunate, because I definitely had a few protesting muscles, and it took me several miles to settle in. It’s been almost 5 years since I last did back-to-back days, and I was feeling it for a little bit there.

The trail took us through some of the sagebrush flats (watch out for badger holes!) before starting to climb. Up, up, up, into the aspens, making time and trotting where we could, walking all the climbs.

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We were working around and behind those red cliffs

This was our “climb to 10,000′” part of the day, and the views from the top were beyond breathtaking.

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cameras just can’t even come close to doing it justice

I was glad for the jacket — it was definitely chilly as we made our way across the ridgeline for a bit before dropping down into the bowl on the backside and cross-countrying our way down to the drainage/trail.

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we came from up there where those trees are

The next section was about 4 miles of pretty much downhill, hardpack, rocky road. We took it easy and walked a lot of it, with intermittent jog-jog sections when it was decent enough footing for the first couple miles, then in smoothed and leveled out enough to pick up the pace again. We eventually made one big loop, and came out on the sage brush from earlier in the morning.

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more sage brush, more badger holes to avoid

This morning’s loop wasn’t as long as day one — I think it was about 25 miles by the time we got back in to camp. Both boys were down right away (yay! That hanging pulse of Flash’s on day one had been the first red flag), so we repeated the same routine — give them food, sit down and eat our own lunches, go vet. Vet check was an all clear this time, so we headed back to the trailer to wrap up the last few vet-check niceties (bathroom, last bit of food, bridle, and go…).

We were out on loop two right on our out time, and Flash cheerfully took up leading, heading out one more time on the familiar creek-crossing trail in/out of camp. And I had my favorite version of Flash — relaxed and happy, easy trotting in the lead on a loose rein.

On this loop, we would follow part of the first loop from day one, so we were on super-familiar turf. Along the way, we picked up Miriam, who had gotten a bit turned around, and she ended up hanging out with us for the rest of the ride. She was super fun to ride with, and I always enjoy meeting and befriending another person in the sport within my own age bracket.

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up in the “Norwegian Forest” on loop two; one of my favorite sections with singletrack trail looping through the aspens

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Troy & Rymoni; Miriam & Mighty

The “Norwegian Forest” section of this loop basically cut off the whole “climb to 10,000′” part of the previous day, and connected over to the same last 7 or 8 miles in to camp from day one/loop one. As soon as the trail connected, Flash knew exactly where we were, and his homing pigeon radar kicked in. He was more than keen to go, but we just kept to the same strategy we’d been doing all day of a nice steady pace. Plus, there was so much grass along the way, and all three boys were more than happy to stop and graze their way into the finish.

Of course, we couldn’t end the ride without a bit of humor and hilarity. We stopped in the larger creek crossing just a mile or so out from camp for one last sponging…and I managed to lose my hold on the sponge string and send it straight into the water. Water that was over knee-deep on Flash. I’m 5’4″. Flash is 15.3. There was no way I was going to manage the “lean over and retrieve an object” trick, so I was resigned to hopping off into the creek for sponge retrieval. Fortunately Miriam came to my rescue — she’s tall, and adorable Mighty is a tiny little power pony, so she was able to lean over and snag the errant sponge for me. Crisis averted! (And I didn’t have to get my feet wet.)

It was a pleasant surprise to find out when we crossed the finish line we were in 5th/6th/7th…we had really taken it easy through the whole day, and rode the ride that the boys needed, and just stayed consistent. Completion awards for the day were really cool insulated stainless steel water bottles — I can never have too many water bottles.

Sunday morning, we wrapped up camp and hit the road…back down to Mt Carmel for the night again, and then home again Monday. Dad volunteered to drive up to Troy and Claire’s place outside of Prescott to pick me up, so that was fun for him to get to meet Flash in person (since I’ve been talking about this horse since April), and I had someone to rehash the weekend to on the drive back home.

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Flash enjoying one last roll at Mt Carmel before hitting the road again

So, Flash and I both go to Tevis in a little over a week…although not together. Flash will be taking a rider from Australia through, and I will be riding my favorite “summer camp pony,” Roo, who has shown up on this blog numerous times (I’ve crewed for him and Lucy at Tevis twice, ridden him in the Tahoe Rim 50, and pre-ridden parts of the Tevis trail on half a dozen occasions).

I would definitely keep the Strawberry ride on my “must do rides” list…the scenery is amazing, and it’s a good, challenging, true endurance ride. Great pre-Tevis prep, and a great ride to teach a horse to take care of themselves.

And after Tevis? Who knows. The thing about catch riding is I rarely have plans set in stone. I’ve learned to be very flexible, and take opportunities as they come up. But I know I’ll happily ride Flash again any time he’s offered!

Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2018

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photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet Flash. Say hello, Flash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our daily dose of rock climbing

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

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Trot anything that’s smooth, walk the rough.

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Last climb out from Miner Bob Loop

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

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

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

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Leading ears on the BCT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50

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photo by Susan Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Alternate titles:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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settled in camp; time for a pre-ride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

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

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photo by Susan Kordish/Cowgirl Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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