First Milestones

It’s been a month and 5 days since Liberty come home. In that time, I’ve put a dozen or so miles on her in the arena, with 7 or 8 rides, plus some non-riding groundwork days, the idea being to make sure we had a solid foundation and all the critical buttons installed and functioning before hitting the trail.

Today, though, I was ready to hit the trail. It was my “birthday gift to myself” — to finally head out and start putting our trail miles on as a team, hopefully the start of what will be many more.

This mare, on her own, is a gift in her own right. She is so much what I needed, moreso than I even realized. While a part of me wishes I had been able to bring her into my life earlier, I also think that both of us are at a better place, mentally, than 7, 6, even 4 years ago. I know I have grown as a horsewoman since our early rides together, largely in part to the years of catching riding, and I’m in a much better state to be the kind of rider that she needs. She’s matured a lot, for her part, and has gotten to be a very good communicator. Or maybe I’m just a better listener now. But either way…I was so pleased with the end result of today’s ride.

She’s been really good for me in the arena, and that’s a venue that she’s not particularly well-versed in. But out on trail? She was stellar. She was bold, solid, and unflappable. Went in lead, middle, or back of our group of three without any issue. Handled the strange “mud run” obstacles that are staged permanently along some of the trail without even a blink — large pits covered in chain link, construction pylons, half-covered culverts, large stacks of straw and palates. She displayed a lovely 4.5 mph walk, was responsive to requests to keep to a walk even when she wanted to trot inclines. And I stayed confident, relaxed, and trusted her, riding with very light contact but staying out of her mouth and trusting her to make smart choices. And she did.

With today’s ride, we reached our first Virtual Tevis milestone — 14 miles to High Camp and Watson’s Monument.

On the actual ride, reaching High Camp was the first real chance I had for a break — quick work of jumping off, tossing Roo’s reins to a volunteer while he drank, and ducking off out of the way to water some non-existent bushes (squat in the weeds/grass, no one cares…), then electrolyting, hopping back on, meeting up with some friends, and starting the last bit of climbing up to Watson’s Monument.

It is Tevis tradition to look back over your shoulder as you crest the top of the mountain at Watson’s Monument and take in the view of Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately, on my year, the smoke from forest fires was so bad, I couldn’t actually see the lake but for a tiny glimmer in one spot. Oh, well. Guess that means I have to go back and get the “proper” view. :D

From Watson’s Monument, it is onward into the Granite Chief Wilderness — which remains to this day one of the prettiest, most fun sections of trail I’ve ridden.

I love how much of a consistent motivator this Virtual Tevis has been, and a great way for Liberty and myself to start “getting our sea legs” together as we slowly accumulate our miles.

Riding Log Corral

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It’s not very often I get a chance to ride mid-week — a self-imposed reality, since if I’m not working, I’m not making $. But when Stephanie asked if I might be available to come ride her horse Ash on a training ride at the Log Corral trail, I didn’t have to think about that very long. I’ve been taking on some extra work of late (by choice) in the form of some weekend jobs with my dad in his carpet cleaning business, and then working on my Masterson Method fieldwork and subsequent session write-ups “homework.” And my mental state was telling me I really needed to take a day, or at least part of a day.

The Log Corral trail is also one I’ve been wanting to ride for a really long time now — it’s a popular training spot for a number of people I know, and for good reason. It’s an 18-mile round trip, an out-and-back that starts at a trailhead/parking area just off a highway, and follows a 4×4 road all the way to the east side of Bartlett Lake…a gradual 5 mile climb to the high point, and then a 4-mile descent down to the lake…then turn around and reverse that. The first mile or so out from the trailhead is a bit rocky, as it winds through a creek bed, but once on the actual Log Corral Trail, it’s lovely, decomposed granite footing the whole way to the lake. So the chance to finally ride that trail (and get the all-important GPS tracks of it for future reference) was something I really didn’t want to pass up.

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Ash, meet Ash. That sure simplifies things when you and the horse share a name.

It’s a fabulous trail, a hidden gem and oasis in the desert, with the bonus of having the lake as the turnaround point. Apparently that part of the lake is also swimmable, so word on the street is “bring swimwear” next time.

Ash was a lovely ride — super experienced, and very well trained (dressage background), so it was really fun to figure out all the buttons he has installed. (Methinks dressage lessons will be in the cards with any future ponies, because I am loving riding these horses that have previous dressage training. Leg yields and half halts all day long.)

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Skeptical of the lake. It was breezy, and creating tiny little waves coming at us, which he wasn’t wild about. Not exactly uncommon when it comes to horses vs waves.

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Go on, tell me my desert is dry, brown, and boring. Oh, and that “Arizona doesn’t have trees.”

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Desert Oasis. There were a couple of stream crossings, plus the lake, so lots of opportunities for the horses to drink.

I was really glad I broke my usual routine and took advantage of the offered opportunity. Great ride with good friends on a good horse…that was exactly the mental health day I needed this past week.

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splish-splash

I’ve mentioned the Salt River before, and the numerous trails around it. It’s becoming one of my favorite places to ride, not only for the abundance of different trail options, but also for the fact that the river is so accessible. In the summer, it actually makes riding in the heat feasible, even bordering on pleasant. (If you’re  a heat-conditioned desert rat who thinks anything below 70* is cold.)

I got to take Khan out yesterday on the Stewart Mountain loop. Decently early start, lots of water, semi-cloud cover, breezes on the ridgeline, and artificial breezes from trotting and cantering the washes made for a pleasant ride.

Wading in the river with the horses when we were almost finished made for a great cool-down, and the chance to just have some fun and enjoyment.

looking down at the Salt River
such a good, fun boy to ride

on the ridgeline, looking out to Saguaro Lake

This was my first time really going into water with a horse. Mimi and I have done stream crossings, and she’s gone maybe mid-cannon-deep into the river when I’ve taken her there, but she’s never been what I would consider fond of water.

It was a blast! We didn’t actually swim — Khan likes standing in the water, but not keen on the swimming idea — but we went wading until it was about chest-deep on Khan. It was a great way to cool off both horses and riders, and based on the splashing and pawing, the horses seemed to enjoy it too.

best-laid plans

“No ride plan ever survives first contact with reality.”

It’s a Monday morning, and I’m insufficiently caffeinated to come up with a witty title about best-laid plans going awry and whatnot.
When we last left off, I was getting ready to go to Man Against Horse to ride the 25 on Liberty. Well, long story short: See above about “best laid plans going awry.” I didn’t end up going to the ride, which is a bummer, but part of endurance riding is the ability to be flexible and willing to have plans change at the last minute.
And after yesterday, I am now harboring suspicions that my pony got wind of my plans and jinxed me so that she would have the chance to go out and ride.
And ride we did!
Angie came down and fetched me again, and we went off to Usery Mountain Park. Mimi was super-happy to be out again and has decided Angie’s gelding Patrick is no longer “babysitting charge” but rather “newest and bestest boyfriend” material. 
Normally extremely territorial about her precious space bubble — and woe to any horse who dares even look at her food — she was letting Patrick nuzzle on her, share food out of the same hay net, and in general act like a dopey, lovestruck teenager.
It was hilarious, and slightly disturbing — but better than the alternative of seeing her “hellbitch” face.
the equine equivalent of whispering sweet nothings
It was a perfect day to be out — breezy, temps in about the 80s, clear skies. The park was surprisingly un-busy — I’d figured on having to fend off tons of other trail users since it’s a popular place, especially on weekends. I think we encountered maybe half a dozen other people out there. Go figure. 
a nice clear section of trail
The worst part about Usery is the prolific amounts of cholla that grow not only ridiculously large, but very close together — cholla groves, so to speak. One of these days I will remember to actually pull out my camera and get photos of said impressive cholla groves, but for now, take my word for it — this isn’t an area for horses with questionable steering. A clear grasp on right and left is a very good idea, and leg yielding even more of a plus.
And since even the best horses can’t always avoid the vegetation that bites back, carrying a “desert survival kit” is a saddle pack essential. It can be tough to pull those cholla bobble out — you grab them and they just stick to you. Easiest way to get them off to to flick them off somehow — my weapon of choice is a mane comb that you slide between body and bobble and flick it away. Other people I know carry hemostats, pliers, or even a dinner fork. Cholla are also one of the main reasons I ride with half chaps.

which way?

The Usery trails tend to be shorter mileage, but they interconnect in such a way that its easy to end up with a decent mileage ride. In our case, we pretty much did a loop around the southern perimeter for a total of about 10 miles.

twin cactus

And the footing tends to be a mixed bag. Parts of the trails are super-smooth and very barefoot-friendly.

leaving cool hoof boot tread impressions

And then other sections are quite rough and rocky, necessitating a slow-down in pace, and hoof-protection for the more tender-footed.

enough rocks to make them watch their feet

By the time we were done, Mimi was revved up and ready for more. Her oncoming winter coat had her rather sweaty, but she was bright-eyed and bouncing back at the trailer, including completely forgetting all of her ground manners and trying to run off with me when I did a post-ride in-hand trout out. Gold star for enthusiasm, minus ten gold stars for demonstrating complete lack of grey matter between the ears.

But look at this happy face:

Go Pony loves to go

Despite my normal insistent on excellent ground manners, I couldn’t even get mad at her…I was too busy laughing at her enthusiasm. You wouldn’t know she’s 20 years old…not when we had moments when I was threatening her with a running martingale, or being absurdly grateful for grippy reins when she thought “canter” meant “blast back to the trailer.”

Conventional wisdom says, “20? That’s kind of getting old for a horse…” and then I remember Snappy was still doing all day long shows and lessons (including gymkhana and low jumps) well into his mid-20s, and didn’t go on “lesson lite” duty until he hit his late 20s/early 30s. He too was a half-Quarter Horse POA with a work ethic the size of the western half of the States. So based on that, I should have some good years left with Mimi. Even if we never do a competition again, she’s far from being done as a trail horse who is safe, (mostly) sane, and just a flat-out blast to ride.
After all, what’s a Go Pony to do but go?

pre-ride shakedown cruise…for the rider

Today involved a fantastic, 18-mile ride on Khan again with Lancette. Parts of it were entirely new-to-me trail, as well as reinforcement of some trails previously ridden. (It’s an area of criss-crossing and intersecting trails, sand washes, and service roads — keep heading in the general direction of your intended destination and you’ll probably get there in some form or fashion.)

It was good timing, too — one last big ride before next weekend’s Man Against Horse ride. I’ve stayed in good riding shape all summer, so I wasn’t concerned about that part. But I did have some new gear I wanted to thoroughly test out before going into a ride environment, including new stirrup leathers.

new stirrup leathers passed the mileage test

I’ve been riding in Zilco leathers, but the stirrup bars on my saddle make it impossible to ride with the buckle at the bar — the pressure point it creates on my thighs is pretty uncomfortable after a short while. I can get around that by rotating the leathers so that the buckle is at the bottom, on the stirrup top bar. The downside to this is the flopping tail of stirrup leather, solved by covering the whole apparatus with fleece stirrup leather covers. The problems with this set-up: It’s harder to adjust the stirrup length, which I frequently need to do depending on the horse I’m riding, and the fleece adds extra bulk under my leg.

A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I ordered a pair of stirrup leather from Schneiders Saddlery. They’re the kind with the buckles riveted to the top of the leather, and they’re supposed to be thin and low-profile and not bulky. The price didn’t exactly break the bank, and if they didn’t do exactly as I hoped for log-term use…well, it never hurts to have an extra pair of stirrup leathers around.
They passed last weekend’s arena test, although I recognized that an hour in the arena wasn’t anywhere near the kind of workout a good distance ride will give them. I’m happy to report today’s ride did just that. Ton of trotting and cantering, ups and downs, twisty single-track and wide-open roads. How I feel tomorrow morning will be the ultimate test, but I didn’t feel the buckles under my thigh while riding, and I don’t have any soreness or bruising now. It was kind of nice to be able to ditch the fleece covers — that much less between my leg and the horse now. The leathers are nylon-lined to prevent them from stretching, and they have some nice “give” to them, so I wasn’t feeling any shin pressure either.
I’m definitely comfortable enough to leave them on the saddle and do the ride next weekend in them. I’ll probably bring the fleece covers just in case, but if I did 18 miles without a problem, it’s only 7 more miles for the 25.
wild horses at the trailhead

We saw a number of wild horses today! Apparently there are bands of them that live down by the river. I’d heard of them, but until today, I’d never seen them. We came across them three different times today, and I think it was three different bands. They were vaguely curious about us, but very wary and preferred to move away from us when in doubt. It was fascinating to watch the stallions do their rear-guard duty, and the body language between the herd members.

They all looked healthy, so whatever they’re living on out there, they’re doing okay.

Lancette and “Hot Lips” playing in the river.

We went down to the river as the halfway point and gave the horses and drink and sponging. I never get tired of river-time and it will always remain a novel concept to this desert rat.

The river was running really clear today, clear enough to see to the bottom.

Obligatory response photo for those who say
“hoof boots can’t do water.”

I sank Khan’s Renegades in about 3′ of water for a good 10 minutes, then we turned around and went back up the sand wash, up a very steep, rocky climb (which we trotted the last part), and then took off trotting down a service road. Boots didn’t budge the entire time.

It’s like a “Where’s Waldo?” photo.
Can you find the hidden shoe?

Right about the time I was admiring how crystal-clear the water was, and how it would make for a great “boots in water” shot, I looked over to the side and saw a horseshoe wedged under a river rock. In the photo, it’s below the center of the photo, just above the blobby bits of green underwater vegetation.

One of the more unusual bits of river debris I’ve encountered. Much more typical is beer cans.

Horse ears. Sunshine. River.
Some views never get old.

The river was absolutely gorgeous today. Running a bit higher and faster as a result of monsoon season, but there is a great area to water the horses that is quiet and shallow and sandy. There was a ton of loose water grass being carried with the current, and Khan greatly enjoyed reaching out and snagging the floating grasses. Yummy.

looking downstream on the Salt River

Pony time for me tomorrow, then before I know it, I will be Prescott-bound for Man Against Horse! I started some packing and organizing today when I got home, and will get more done tomorrow in the form of cleaning grubby tack after the pony gets done adding yet another layer of grunge to it.