New Years Between the Ears

My favorite New Year’s Day tradition is to welcome the new year with my butt in the saddle, taking in a scenic view between the ears of a good horse. There’s an adage out there that I adhere to: “Whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll spend the rest of the year doing.”

It hasn’t always worked, but I hedge my bets and try to spend New Year’s Day on horseback anyway.

Yesterday, Liberty and I met up with my friend Lancette and her mare Mesa to give the mares a good workout. We’ve been doing quite a bit of training together, as the two mares pace well together, enjoy each other’s company, and don’t negatively feed off each other. They’re also at similar levels of conditioning and legging up fitness right now, so it ends up being a pretty ideal riding buddy scenario.

I’ve been doing a lot of my riding out of Prospector Park lately, using the trails for the Tonto Twist ride. It’s one of the less-busy options for riding right now (the regional parks have all gotten insanely busy, with a lot of people who don’t have a clue about trail etiquette), and while I know Liberty is okay with…well, pretty much everything out there…it makes it hard to settle into a consistent pace and rhythm. And I hit the trails with my horse to get away from people and crowds and get some peace and quiet.

Out at Prospector, it’s usually quiet, and although there’s a portion of the trails that are open for off-road use, at least you can hear those coming. There’s also a ton of different trail options out there, many of which I need to spend more time exploring other than just the ride trails.

Loop One, in reverse — on Tonto Twist ride day, you go up this climb

On ride day, Loop One is a 30-mile trek, and riding it ahead of time takes some planning, with staging water and hay at an accessible halfway point ahead of time, so normally, it’s not commonly used in the training repertoire. But we decided to do part of the trail and run it as an out and back, which mean getting to see some really beautiful parts of the trail, and enjoying them at a slightly more laid-back pace than the supercharged ride day energy I’ve normally experienced through that particular route, although I didn’t get pictures down in the canyon…too busy riding, watching the trail, and talking.

Lancette and I are also two of the founding members of the AZ Endurance Riders Club, and she’s been the one to spearhead the whole endeavor, so any time we get together, there’s always talk of ideas of the club, hashing out details, setting future plans into motion…I’m super-excited for some of what will be coming up this year, including one of my own pet projects I’m hoping to launch.

One of the interesting aspect of winter in Phoenix — the inversion layer. Cold enough at night and warm enough in the day, and surrounded by mountains, it ends up trapping a lot of particulate matter down in the valley. We were high enough at the particular point to see exactly where the inversion layer starts. This is both fascination, from a visual aspect, and disgusting, because “Gee, I wonder why I have allergies?”

Our ride ended up being about 16 miles overall , and I was so proud of Libby. She hasn’t been out since Jingle Bell trot (a month ago) and she was a little tense for the first quarter mile or so, and then settled right in as through she had just been out the previous day. I seriously love this mare’s brain so much, and I have a hard time fully articulating everything I feel about her.

She was definitely the best part of 2020, and she is everything I need in a horse right now. She challenges me — not in a “problem horse who needs fixing” type of way, but the positive, “I want to better myself as a horsewoman to be able to best communicate with her” kind of way. She’s bold and she’s solid, but she’s also very connected to her rider, and the more confident I am and the more I trust her, the more she shines. She’s bailed my anxious, nervous butt out on previous occasions, in terms of not taking advantage of me or melting down herself, but she really, really wants her rider to be her partner, and when I am focused and “forward thinking” myself, she gives her 100%. (It’s happened enough times now that I’ve picked up on a pattern — if I’m not engaged, or just “along for the ride,” that’s when she will start peeking at things or tossing in little shies at rocks, dead cactus, etc…her way of saying, “hey, up there, we’re in this together, be with me.” But I connect with her and can communicate with her in a way I don’t think I’ve experienced with another horse before.

While I have some lofty goals for her that I truly hope we can achieve, what she’s offering me in terms of learning and growing as a horsewoman is far deeper-reaching and long-term, and for that alone, she is a truly amazing addition to have in my life.

Post-ride photo outtakes. The grey is Lancette’s mare Mesa. We were attempting to get a pretty, posed, “dark horse with light tack, and light horse with dark tack” contrast picture, but none of the subjects were cooperating. Myself included, apparently. We finished up the last stretch back to the trailers in a side-by-side “trotting race,” and I was still all giddy and giggly from how much fun that had been. It’s been far too long since I’ve had so much fun riding a horse.

October in Pictures

Well, October got away from me a bit. I feel like I crammed a lot into this month, and some of this stuff probably deserves its own post, but at least I’ve place-marked it here for the immediate time being.

Off in la-la-land to have dental done. After a session of natural balance equine dentistry, I saw some marked improvement in her acceptance of the bit and softness, so she definitely needed some work done. This was my first experience with this approach and so far, I’m liking it.
Someone got a new stable halter…and she doesn’t know what to think about it.
October is Mimi’s “Gotcha Day” month and this year marked 24 years together for us! <3
A good chunk of this month was devoted to working on trailer loading. She did good work last weekend, so <fingers crossed> that we’re on the leeward side of that climb.
New PerformaRide tights and matching buff.
October is also Sofie’s “Gotcha” month…5 years for my sweet heart-dog.
I set up my GoPro for one of my arena sessions. It…wasn’t pretty. At least screen caps I can selectively pause at “reasonably together” moments. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at video of myself ride, and let’s just say I’ve got some work to do.
This mare’s brain impresses me so much. That road in the background dips down at that point and then climbs again, coming within about 60′ away from where we park at this “trailhead” (really more of a large pullout off the road). We were passed by 18-wheelers, groups of motorcycles, trucks pulling boats, vehicles with kayaks and rafts strapped on top, and none of it fazed her. And at this point, we were the only ones there, too.
I love riding Bulldog Canyon. Aside from doing the Tonto Twist ride in January, it’s been a while since I’ve done any training rides out here and I forget how nice of a trail it is and how gorgeous the scenery it is. This is one of the larger wash sections but it’s a mix of sand wash and double-track road and single-track trails.
She’s another horse that I tend to have a stupid grin on my face whenever I ride, especially out on trail. We’re a bit of a hot mess express in the arena, but on trail is where she truly shines, and I spent most of the ride either giggling, or with an ear-splitting grin on my face. And a lot of exclaiming, “I love this horse.”
Salt River is running really low right now, but it’s still pretty, and made for very peaceful and easy drinking towards the end of our ride.

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.