Vlogging the Sonoran Preserve

I did something different this week and finally pulled out my GoPro and did something with it. I’ve taken video clips before, but never sat down and turned them into anything useful, but this time, I finally took my video footage and played around with editing it and turning it into a postable video.

I’m still very much in the learning process of editing/software/etc…but it wasn’t nearly as frustrating as I had expected it to be. Plus, the video format and pretty footage is a lot more interesting to watch…my training ride recaps can only be so interesting/entertaining, especially when there’s nothing dramatic to report (which is how I like it, so not complaining about that…). And I’m still behind on a couple ride stories (plus most of the summer), so this may be a way for me to keep my interest in blogging/vlogging and employ a bit of a chance of format.

So, let me know what you guys think! More videos? (And for anyone who does vlog…I am always game for any feedback and tips/tricks for whatever makes the process easier, or what you’ve learned along the way for what works well.)

A Couple Months of Fun Rides

I am so far behind on blogging. Irony is when I’m not riding, I have lots of time to write…but very little content. Right now, and the last several months, I’ve been riding a lot and have lots of content…but less time to sit down and write (and more of my writing time is being taken up with work projects and AZERC club projects). The reality is, a quick post on social media is a lot faster…although it tends to lack the space, word count, and audience attention span to spin out a really good story.

I do miss the days of the height of equine (especially endurance) blogging…I sort of feel like “last woman standing” when it comes to actively (semi-actively?) blogging…but that goes along with how I tend to feel some days with endurance. I’ve been in this sport since 2004, and I’m still a “newbie” compared to some…but I look around and marvel at how many people I’ve seen come and go in this sport just in the last 18 years. I guess longevity doesn’t apply just to the horses…

Anyway…I still have 2 ride stories I need to catch up on (Bumble Bee in April and Cinders Trot in May), but in the meantime, I figured on doing a catch-all photo spam round-up of the last couple months, and some of the more interesting things we’ve been up to. I have no idea how it’s already halfway through the year. There’s some days it’s all I can do to get through without feeling like my head is completely spun.

Fortunately, riding has been a good stabilizer and sanity-keeper, and I’ve had the chance to do some exploring on some new trails and new places.

Log Corral

Log Corral is a really fun ride that is an excellent workout — an 18-mile ride round trip, it’s an out-and-back that starts at a trailhead off the Beeline Hwy and goes to Bartlett Lake and back. The first half is climbing up, then descending down to the lake…and then reverse that on the way back.

I was thrilled with how Libby handled this ride…it was her first time out there on that trail, all three of our riding companions are Tevis-bound and she comfortably held her own with them on pacing and recoveries, and best of all, she loved going into the lake! I didn’t let her go in too far…I didn’t want to wade after her and get soggy, since there was still a 9-mile ride back to the trailer (although my saddle would have fared okay). But I was pleased that she seemed to be such a happy little seahorse, since there’s another lake in the NW part of the Valley that is a popular destination for people to take horses to go swim, so I might finally get a chance to go swim with my horse one of these days.

Happy Camp

Also known as “Hewitt Station,” is a portion of the Arizona Trail that runs through the Superstition Mountains; this particular section is north of Picketpost Mountain. It’s a trail ride versus an endurance conditioning ride, but I do love my ponies to be versatile and adaptable, and to be able to rock-n-roll through a fast endurance pace one day, and then mosey through technical trail the next. There’s the remnants of some old stone houses tucked away if you know where to look for them, we were fortunate enough to find one of the seasonal creeks still flowing a bit, and Liberty met train tracks for the first time (the now-defunct Arizona-Magma line that ran cattle and copper down to one of the main rail lines in the Valley).

Happy Jack

An invite to spend a weekend up north with friends at their cabin and property netted a bit more drama than I planned for…of the vehicular variety. My alternator in my truck went out in mid-drive (literally, as I’m cruising down the road, my power cuts out and I’m dead in the water…), but fortunately there was a well-placed pull-out, and although I was in a cell phone dead zone, the pull-out happened to have a young father and his son camping out there. They were amazingly kind and helpful, and drove me (and the dog) into town, where I was able to procure a new battery and contact Susie & Brad to let them know what was going on. Brad promptly drove down in their truck, met me at my pull-off spot, swapped the battery over and determined the alternator was out. My trailer got hitched to his truck, I drove my truck into town, dropped it off at a mechanic that was open (and had time, and had the part, and could turn it around that same day), then headed up to the cabin where all of us were still able to get a lovely afternoon ride. I was able to retrieve the now-repaired truck later that afternoon, and still salvage a lovely evening, enjoy an overnight in fresh, cool mountain air, and still get in another ride the next morning. It was the kind of weekend that made me grateful for good friends, and reminded that the kindness of strangers really does still exist. And both the dog and the horse handled all the upheaval with absolute aplomb and sensibility.

Other Miscellanea and Arizona Life

We’ve been working on our Tevis heat conditioning…albeit a year ahead of time for us. (Well, I’m sure it’ll be beneficial for me for crewing this year.) Right now, my goal is to give Libby a little bit of downtime and R&R — keep her stretched out and lightly worked (doing more arena stuff at the moment), but a chance to have a break after the hard season we put in from Oct-May. And arena stuff means working on things like gate-opening skills, which Liberty is rapidly figuring out.

We’re also in monsoon season, and have started getting some rain…including the skies opening up on us in the middle of riding. Hoping more of that continues and we get a good monsoon season through the summer.

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.