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.

my little go pony

Miss Mimi is as happy as a clam after getting to go out two weekends in a row. Gotta say, I understand the feeling. There is nothing quite like one’s own pony. :)

A came down and chauffeured us again, which I am so, so grateful for.

heading out from the trailhead

 The weather cooperated in that there was a nice breeze most of the time, and the sun would duck behind some clouds every so often, so it never got too unbearable out.

doing the “big wash”

 The worst part was probably in the wash, which doesn’t get much breeze…but fortunately there were treese and high rock walls, which meant we weren’t baking in full sun.

mountain range overlooking the wash

 Mimi was “on” today. I rode in my Duett again, and the way she was acting, I don’t think saddle fit is an issue. If anything, I think her reluctance in the arena has been sheer boredom and being fed up with circles. Not that I blame her. It does us both good to get out again.

trail signage

 I also took her out in her Myler kimberwick today, after she demonstrated last weekend that she was being a bit strong in her s-hack. Every so often she needs a reminder about giving and softening, and apparently she’s on one of those reminder cycles now.

She was forward and eager enough today that I was glad for the bit, since it meant all I had to do was give finger taps on the reins when she would try for yet another sneaky trot opportunity. She really wanted to go today.

lunch break!

We did two loops: the first was a 9-mile, all walking (except for the sneaky trot opportunities), then came back in for a drink and snack, then went back out on a 4-mile loop that was more trotting.

I was so happy with how she did today. She’s out of shape for hills, since we’ve been doing nothing but flat arena work, but she’s one game little pony. She was still bright-eyed at the end, and eating and drinking with gusto. She did her customary “drop her head and snooze, I’m so tired” routine after she was untacked and somewhat cleaned up…but perked right up for an in-hand trot-out, then jumped right into the trailer to head home. Back at the barn, she proceeded to drag me up the barn driveway, then trot back to her stall as soon as I’d dumped all of my bags and stuff at my car. She dove into her hay and water back at the barn, got a shower, had a good roll in the sand, and went right back to her food.
I’m still tickled with how well she did today. She’s been on her new joint supplement for a week now. I don’t know if it makes that big of a difference already, or if she’s just in a happy place mentally with getting to go out again…whatever it is, I’ll take it. When she feels good, I feel good.

a weekend of horses: Sunday edition

As if Saturday wasn’t enough fun, I got a message from A Saturday night asking if I wanted to come ride with her on one of her horses on Sunday. Of course!!!

Bonus points for the fact we were going to somewhat new-to-me trailhead: the newly-opened Brown’s Trailhead in the newest part of the Scottsdale Sonoran Preserve. Now, Dad and I used to ride the trails around Granite Mountain years ago back when he first got his mare Kelly. So I was somewhat familiar with the east side of what is now preserve land, but we’d never gotten as far west as the new trailhead.

I was distracted (fitting and booting horses, tacking up, trying to beat the heat), so didn’t think to get pics of the trailhead…so I will the next time. But until then, just take my word for it: It’s cool. They even have a concrete horse trough with a drain in it, so you turn it on and get nice, fresh, (somewhat) cool water when you want to water your horse, versus a slimy, overheated, nasty trough.

And it looks like there are a ton of trails there too. We did what was I think about a 9-mile loop and barely put a dent in the trail availability. Definitely want to come back here again.

A offered me her very experienced endurance gelding Majik to ride. Fun, fun horse! He’s bold, dominant, and forward, the kind that, as long as he knows you know how to sit up and ride, he’s wonderful. Those are my favorite kind of horses to ride, so we had a great time together.

Bringing up the rear of the Endurance Parade.
(Yes, riding yet another Grey Arabian Gelding.)

 I also got to try A’s Lovatt & Ricketts (Arabian Saddle Company) Sylvan, which is their all-purpose, fewer-rings-than-endurance-saddles model. An ASC has also been on my “want to test” list after sitting on a Rubicon in a store…I like these saddles. Will definitely consider one of them in the future.

Balancing Rock

 It was a small group of four of us riding, and we took turns swapping positions, trading off who was leading, or in the back. Great group that all got along well and had a really fun time.

desert in bloom

I love this north Scottsdale/Rio Verde area. I’ve been coming up here to ride, off-and-on, for the past 13 years, and I’m still not tired of it. The only reason it doesn’t qualify as my favorite spot to ride is it is a little more out of the way than the San Tans. But in terms of overall views and amount of trails available, I have to give this area the nod.

Trail obstacle. We had to go between the rock and the tree.

So, a very horsey-filled weekend that left me with a smile on my face and some muscles that are in that much better shape for the fast-approaching fall ride season.

a weekend of horses: Saturday edition

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve done back-to-back days…last time was at the Prescott Chaparral ride in April.

To start, Mimi got to go out on trail on Saturday for her idea of a “proper” ride. (We were supposed to be babysitting, but the “baby” in question was so solid, we didn’t have much “sitting” to do.)

A and Patrick, featuring Rearguard Pony Ears

 A is a fellow endurance rider, and always game to try a new place to ride, so when I offered Mimi’s babysitting services if she wanted to take her young horse out and explore a new-to-her place, she was thrilled with the idea.

(And I’m grateful she was willing to come all the way down from the north Phoenix area and chauffeur us around as well.)

Taking blatant advantage of Mimi’s ability to keep trucking
down the trail while I do stupid stuff, including taking pics
on a more interesting section of downhill.

 A also brought along her FreeForm saddle for me to try. (Networking. It’s a beautiful thing. I’ve managed to check off three of the four saddles on my “would like to try” list…and really don’t have major complaints about any of them. That’s helpful. *eyeroll*)

Hard to compare apples-to-apples, as I’ve only tried the Sensation on Mimi on the flat, versus doing trail work and then coming back and doing “flat work” in the trailhead parking lot. Would like to try the Sensation out on trail on her, since the other times I’ve ridden the Sensation have been on Other People’s Horses. (Nothing like trying something on the horse whose every step I know.)

beautiful San Tans

 It’s also been at least a few months since we’d been down to the San Tans. It’s pretty much my favorite place to ride around the Valley and the pony seems to be pretty partial to it too. I wonder why…how many hours and miles have we logged down here at this park?

“Babysitting Duties”: One ear swiveled back to make sure our
babysitting charge is still there.

 Young-horse Patrick’s only indiscretion, it seemed, was giving “Buttcrack Rock” a major side-eye, and all it took was Mimi going up to it and touching it for him to venture up and do the same. Despite her nasty “mare-face” attitude, which I really try not to capture on camera. Really spoils the “Pretty White Princess” effect.

Mimi and Patrick discuss the scary “Buttcrack Rock”

I didn’t have a GPS with me (I keep forgetting about my GPS apps on my phone…grrr), but that loop we did is just about 7 miles. Mostly walking, with a bit of trotting. A great first outing for Patrick, and a great stretcher for Mimi, who isn’t in world’s best shape right now…although she kind of surprised me.

We did our loop, then some trot-canter “arena” work in the parking lot for me to get a feel for the FreeForm, then came back to the trailer, got a drink, and she was down to 48 on her pulse within 5 minutes, which was about when I bothered to actually check it. Need to start riding with a HRM again for curiosity’s sake. And she was moving out really well, bright and sparkly-eyed, and not acting her age. That makes me happy. :)