New Years at Picketpost

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“Start as you mean to continue.”

I generally try to avoid being too superstitious…but that is one I try to adhere to every year — the idea that what you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll do the rest of the year.

So I took my pony on a ride.

And hopefully that translates into “get to go do plenty of endurance rides” for the rest of year. But in the meantime, I enjoyed a beautiful, Arizona winter day, on my spitfire of a pony who was two handfuls’ worth of sass and spirit, acting not at all like her turning-27-years-old-this-year age.

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Still the Most Adorable Endurance Pony (retired), all geared up and sporting our Christmas present — a D-Lua Park saddle pad

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“Come on, let’s gooooo!!!!!” The Patented Pony Side-Eye.

We’ve ridden Arnett Canyon before (shortly after Ney Year’s last year, in fact), and it’s a really fun trail. Some technical stuff, both manmade waterbars/steps in and out of the water crossings, and natural rock ledges and outcroppings to be navigated…and depending on the time of year, lots of water crossings. I lost track of how many water crossings we ended up doing, including a couple that were deep enough to be past Mimi’s knees, and my feet and lower legs got splashed a number of times.

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Such an interesting microclimate back in the canyon. Saguaros and ocotillo collide with cottonwoods, sycamores, and water.

It was a good, 8-mile stretch, and Mimi was still being a fire-breathing dragon at the end. She is still so strong, I forget how much of a workout it is when she’s that on and in bulldozer mode, when I have to really work to not let her plow through on her forehand through all of the technical, tricky bits. I’m pretty sure the catch-ride Arabs are actually an easier ride than her. Love her, though, and she’s certainly made me a better rider and has made me work for it along the way.

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The 2020 offering of my current blog header. I try to capture this particular pic/angle whenever I’m out there, because it looks so different depending on the season and time of day.

Happy 26th, Mimi + Coon Bluff Ride

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Happy 26th birthday, baby girl!

I seriously can’t believe my little pony is 26. She really doesn’t act like it, especially mentally, and physically, she still seems like she’s doing quite well. We just puttered around today, and mostly treated it as an excuse to overindulge her in carrots and apples and cookies.

But last weekend was her “pre-birthday” ride, and we explored a brand-new-to-us location: Coon Bluff out at the Salt River. I’ve ridden around several different areas at the Salt River over the years, including Bulldog Canyon, Blue Point, Stewart Mtn, Phon D Sutton…half a dozen staging areas all within a few mile radius of the same intersection. But Coon Bluff was a first, and we saw all new-to-us trails, and had probably one of the best rides we’ve had in several years.

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pre-ride napping against the trailer

Most of our group rides lately have been group ride, which are fine…it’s certainly better than not getting out at all. But they’ve never been our favorite thing, for many reasons. Mimi is competitive…she likes to lead, or be very close to the front. I am a chronic overly responsible worrier, which means I am always listening for every indication of possible equine shenanigans or trouble. In a group ride, I don’t always know the people and horses, or know their capabilities, so I have a hard time relaxing when I’m constantly on alert for how everyone else is doing. Historically, I’ve had the most enjoyment either on our own, or with one other horse/rider.

This time, wish granted, since it was just barn owner Chris and myself riding, and Mimi and Chris’s mare Tuudy are buds, but not excessively so. Tuudy also likes to lead, but they’re a good trail team in that they are actually able to trade off leading-following fairly happily, with neither of them really setting the other off or devolving into jigging fits. Which meant we both had a really good ride.

Chris had been to Coon Bluff a few times before, so she navigated, showing us access pints to the river, crossing points when it’s low enough, and a great mix of trails. The area is also host to the multiple mini bands of the Salt River Wild Horses. And they were out in droves that day. Super-proud of Mimi…she was curious, but happy to keep trucking by at a healthy distance away.

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In fact, I was super-proud of her all day. My arms and hands were feeling pretty sore, and a firm grip wasn’t happening after a 12+ hour carpet and tile cleaning job the previous day, so I was riding with a loose/soft rein…big change of pace for me, the chronic “when in doubt, shorten the reins and grab harder” control freak. :/ And you know what? She did fabulous, including through some spooks and moment that rightly should have set her off (rattling truck with kayaks on top, off-roading through some rough stuff right beside the horses)m and then later meeting kayaks down in the river.

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The last time she saw kayaks, about 10 years ago, she was not this amused…and I was not on her back.

Kind of hard to believe that even at age 16, she was generating reactions to things like kayaks, enough to make me not want to be on her back at the time…bombproof, she certainly is not. And the funny thing is, even after what will be 23 years together this fall, I’m still learning how to be better…for her, with her. But this was probably one of the first times I’ve had that relaxed of a ride on her, that I didn’t micromanage every one of her reactions, and finally just trusted all of the work, training, and years together…to trust that she wouldn’t jig if I gave her a loose rein, that her spook at a plastic bag would be contained and in-place, that just looking at something meant that’s all she was going to do…just look.

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This footing!!! I want to put a ride on out here someday. Pretty sure I can get 50 miles of trail. And a lot of it looks like this. A few sections of rock, but it wouldn’t be AZ without at least a few obligatory curses at rocks along the way.

The last year or so of catch rides I’ve done and horses I’ve ridden have done light years for my confidence and competence again. I mean, yeah, I still have plenty of self-doubts, and moments of wondering about myself and the sport of endurance, but it’s gotten better, at least.

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wild lantana…it loved the really soft sand areas

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The kind of trails that made me long to be back in endurance mode with her.

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River-side trails…that’s the Salt River just below us.

Now, the whole Salt River area is one of those spots that doesn’t have much by way of marked, “official” trails. Some marked Forest Service roads (it’s all Tonto National Forest back in there), and a handful of short signed trails…and a whole spaghetti-tangle of rider-made trails and wild horse trails (that go under the mesquite trails that are tall enough to clear the back of a little 14hh wild horse…but not so accommodating of a mounted rider). So it helps to have a good sense of direction, and someone who has been there before. And even they, you might end up detoured and getting in some “bonus miles” because you have to keep detouring around the herds, and getting a little off track…

But the bonus miles meant we ended up logging a nice 7-mile ride.

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It’s a jungle out there…

And whoever says Arizona is a dry desert with no trees??? Liars. This whole area is mesquite forest, cottonwoods, and other shrubby vegetation stuff that is more than happy to grow near the river. It was an absolutely delightful little jewel of an area to discover, and I’m still amazed I hadn’t been to it before.

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The one official trail sign I saw out there…

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Keeping up her “endurance pony who will drink from any water source” credentials

 

 

 

Arnett Canyon @ Picketpost

Happiness is…

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Starting the new year off right, seeing the trails between my favorite set of pony ears.

We were originally slated for a traditional “start as you mean to continue” day on New Year’s Day itself, with a ride out at Picketpost Mountain…but a cold/storm front moved in, and even dumped snow on the outer parts of the Valley. So the ride got postponed to the weekend, and I spent my New Year’s day in “Closet Purgeatory.” I’m not sure if that means I’m going to spend the rest of my year cleaning, sorting, and organizing things?

Anyway, postponing it resulted in an absolutely perfect day for riding, with the kind of weather that reminds me of why Arizona in the winter is such an ideal place. Highs in the lower 60s, breezy, a few scattered clouds…ideal weather for the older, sometimes-crunchy pony.

Not that she was feeling particularly crunchy this time. I think I shocked her with another outing so soon after our Christmas ride, and when we ended up going to a destination she hadn’t been to in almost 8 years, I’m pretty sure she aged down by a decade or so out of sheer delight. The last time we were at Picketpost, we were still in endurance training mode, and I’m pretty sure she thought the same thing was still true this time around.

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Little stinker being sassy with her pasturemate Tuudy, whom she has merrily lorded over and bossed around for the last dozen years or so.

Picketpost Mountain is a trailhead in the Superstition Mountains, out near the mining town of Superior. It’s an access point for The Arizona Trail, and that’s one of the main features of the trailhead, but there are miles of other trails that connect or branch off from that point. I’ve ridden and hiked parts of The AZ Trail from there, but this time, we would be exploring one of the side trails — brand new to both of us!

A group of seven of us would be riding together, and while the entirely of the trail can be ridden as a 10-mile loop that eventually goes the entire way around Picketpost Mtn, we opted for an out-and-back option…ride out for a few miles, stop for lunch, then head back.

I don’t actually know if the trail itself has a name…it winds through what appears to be called Arnett Canyon on the maps, so that’s what I’m calling it, if only for the purposes of my own identification.

Like the vast majority of the Superstitions, it has rocky parts…some slab type of stuff that is either flat or somewhat stair-steppy, some dry washbeds, some typical embedded rocks in the trail. But there were also some sections that were smooth, gorgeous singletrack that both of us itching to go blasting down the trail.

Bonus of riding with other people...I finally get media of me riding my own pony! And proof that I really need to work on my collapsing right ribcage habit.

Bonus of riding with other people…I finally get media of me riding my own pony! And proof that I really need to work on my collapsing right ribcage habit.

During out Christmas ride, I wondered if that was going to be our “new normal” — while she was willing and happy to go, she also felt stiff, very heavy on the forehead, minced her way along on downhills, and had more than a few stumbles…all things that had me second-guessing if I had any business taking her out on trail anymore.

No second-guessing this time around. Main difference? Switched saddles. I had been using the Sommer Oakfield the previous ride, and I think I finally have to come to the conclusion that it’s too narrow for her, and she really wasn’t comfortable. This time, I used the Frank Baines dressage saddle, and she was moving out and doing her endurance pony power walk. No hesitation, no tripping, very balanced…and color me totally shocked that I’m pretty sure it’s actually the most comfortable saddle I own for me. 8 mile ride, totally at a walk, and I wasn’t sore at all…whereas 5 miles at a walk in the Sommer actually left me feeling it in my legs a bit.

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I can also actually mount from the ground in this saddle. Every other one, I end up rolling on her…in all of her not-quite-14hh-glory. So not exactly a huge stretch and hang time to get up there. But this one stays put. Good thing, too, since I had to test that a couple times after she pitched a couple boots along the way. Time for some troubleshooting, since it’s been ages since she’s flung a boot. I suspect I need to bring her toes back some more, and the combo of that + water + mud was just too much. Eh, well…nothing like putting one’s own work knowledge to the test.

It was an absolutely beautiful trail, though, and really fun to explore an area I had not been to. It’s really quiet back in there, and although the trail is well-maintained, I think it’s not as well known, or gets passed over in favor of The AZ Trail. Which is fine by me, because it felt like we had the entire canyon just to our group. It’s a hidden oasis, tucked into the shadow of Picketpost Mtn, and has that wild, untamed feel that, to me, defines the Superstition Mountains and makes them so unique.

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I’ll leave you with a bit of history — that strip of pavement is part of the original US-60 highway. The trail is about 1/2-mile from the current highway at this point, as the crow flies.

 

belated birthday wishes

I spent the last three days at The Mane Event expo in Scottsdale, working the trade show booth for Renegade, so I missed posting on Mimi’s actual birthday, which was on Friday.

So this is a belated happy 24 years to my bestest heart horse in the world.

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It’s really hard to believe that she’s 24. Physically, there are times I definitely know that she’s showing some signs of her age, but mentally, she’s still going strong, and as long as she’s given some warm-up time, she is still physically strong and capable.

We were able to get out on trail again a couple weekends ago, and at one point, she was out-walking all five four of the other horse we were with. Never mind she was the shortest of the bunch, with the others ranging from 15hh to 17+hh.

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best view in the world is between these ears

Carr Lake Trailhead

With temperatures still hitting triple-digits, and a laughable attempt at a monsoon season, it was time to head up to the high country for some elevation, fresh air, and cooler weather.

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waiting to load up and head out

Destination: Carr Lake Trailhead near Woods Canyon Lake on the Mogollon Rim, about half an hour east of Payson. Elevation: 6700′. Temperature: Blissful. (I don’t know what the temps were exactly, but I think probably in the high-70s.)

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Rim Lakes Recreation Area. Woods Canyon Lake is one of the most popular camping spots in AZ, and there are a ton of camping spots, trailheads, and trails up here — most of which I didn’t know about until this weekend.

It’s only about a 2-1/2 hour drive from the barn, and really, not too bad of a drive. Your rig needs to be able to handle hills, since there are a few climbs that will make a vehicle work, but the route is a State Route highway versus major interstate, so it is most commonly used by passenger vehicles and a handful of semis, compared to the non-stop trucker stream of I-10 and I-17.

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Unlikely boot color combo (burgundy/green) actually works. Kind of. If you like bright colors. And “unique” combinations.

We had a group of 6 all riding together, and this was one of the best group rides I’ve been on. Lots of switching out of who-was-where in the line-up, so Mimi got to spend a good amount of time leading, and only had to suffer being in the middle or back for small amounts of time.

She was definitely in Endurance Pony mode, and despite being the smallest one there, out-walked everyone.

The trails were lovely — a lot of smooth single-track interspersed with sections that were rockier or more technical (short clamber through a creekbed, for example). Previous trips to the Rim area have netted some really great trail-riding trails, but not great for any kind of endurance conditioning since most are too technical to allow for much by way of moving out. This area, though, showed a lot of promise for return trips of the conditioning variety, and apparently we just barely scratched the surface of available trails.

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EZ On Up Ranch “Club Grey” (with small, medium, and large representatives)

Mimi was so happy to be out on trail again. Even her snarky mare faces were fairly minimal, and she actually liked 2/5 other horses (her EZ On Up Ranch herdmates), tolerated 2 of the other horses, and only actively disliked 1 of them. Not bad in the world of Mare-ville.

It will definitely be worth a return trip up here…easy enough of a drive for a day trip, fun and pretty trails, and a great break from the hot summer weather.

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Move over, Disney. This is *my* Happiest Place On Earth.