Ride Story: Strawberry Fields Ride 2018

With the countdown at less than 10 days til T-Day, and less than a week until D-for-T (Departure-for-Tevis) Day, I figured I’d better get a move on and get this story out before too much time goes by.

The Strawberry Field Forever ride has been on my bucket list since I started distance riding. Back in 2002, when I had been doing about half a season of NATRC, I went to Mimi’s and my last POA show…the POA Worlds, up in Spanish Fork, UT. It was an almost week-long gig, with only so much for someone who is not showing (aka, “one’s show parents”) to do…so my dad took a couple of days to go up to the Strawberry NATRC ride. Originally his plan was to hang out and visit, but he got drafted as ride photographer. Long story short, he fell in love with the area and the amazing scenery, and we talked for years about how we needed to get up there again and do the ride.

So imagine my delight when I found out there was also an endurance ride up there. Ir’s been on my ride radar for forever, so I was quite ecstatic when Troy contacted me to see if I would be interested in riding Flash for a couple of days at Strawberry this year.

Let’s see…ride I’m dying to do? On a horse I love to ride? Yeeesssssssssssss!!!

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I love this smoochable mug

It’s a two-day drive up to Strawberry from the Phoenix area, so we headed out of the Valley Tuesday afternoon, overnighted at the Mt Carmel basecamp, then drove the rest of the way to camp on Wednesday, arriving in the early afternoon with plenty of time to set up camp and take the boys out for a pre-ride.

Flash is a horse who does best on pretty much daily exercise in some form or another, either on the exerciser or being ridden. He’d just been cooped up in the trailer for the past two days, and was happy to express his opinion about that. That opinion amounted to a couple of half-hearted crowhops and some attempts at jigging, but overall, more of a source of eyerolling and bemused chuckles than anything. Opinions…he’s got ’em.

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Just one pre-ride was enough to make me fall in love with the area.

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Riding through aspen groves…I felt like I was in the middle of a fantasy setting.

Friend Dayna was the absolute best Queen Bee and camp mom for the weekend. She had food, drinks, and more food made for us riders whenever we possibly needed it, made dinner every night, and was a lot of fun to hang out with for the weekend. I’ve long-admired her as a rider, her ability to be competitive, but always with her horses’ best interest at the forefront. I got to pick her brain during some of the weekend downtimes, and got some great riding tips and advice, plus other relatable life stories.

The plan on Thursday was to get another pre-ride in…7-8 miles this time, just to take that final edge off. 15 miles later…the edge was sufficiently off. We were on ribbons the whole time, but just had no frame of reference for exactly where said ribbons went, and ended up going a lot further than intended. Oops?

So, yeah, that was fun…the worst part of it was I had anticipated about a 1-1/2-hour ride, not 3+ hours, so was a little short in the water and especially the food department. But a good free object lesson in being more prepared than you think you need to be, even for a “quick little ride.”

The Strawberry Fields ride is part of the XP Rides, aka the “Duck” rides, put on by Dave “The Duck” Nicholson and his wife Annie. They’re all multi-day rides, with many of them taking place on or near locations that were a part of the original Pony Express route. They tend to be more casual, laid-back type of rides, with a certain degree of self-sufficiency. There’s often only one vet check (which isn’t an uncommon thing for rides here in the SW region anyway), and the trails usually go into more remote areas. More info on their website: XP Rides.

This was actually my first XP ride, and I loved it. I also love the frills rides, though, too. I guess rides are still enough of a novelty to me, even after 14 years, that it takes a lot for me to not enjoy a ride. Check-in and vet-in was super quick, and ride meeting was brief. The only snag was a fire in the close vicinity had closed access to some of the usual trails, so they had to do some last-minute scrambling to pull the trails together.

Basecamp was at ~8000′ elevation, so the weather was decidedly cooler than back down in Phoenix. Friday morning was a bit chilly, and I scuttled around in three layers, finally (reluctantly) shedding my puffy jacket just before mounting up. Flash is such an interesting horse at ride starts. He’s really business-like, so no funny games or shenanigans, but he is so eager to get going that he literally quivers in anticipation any time you stop.

We headed out on the same trail we had pre-ridden the past two days, the single-track trail helping to space out the pack, and we were soon in a small bubble of four or five riders, just easily motoring along. There was a definitely a technical element to some of the trails — rocks, or downed aspen “cavaletti” to step over — so it kept both horse and rider paying attention.

It didn’t take too long before we started climbing. Eventually we would top out at 10,000′, but in the meantime, there was still plenty of trail along the way. Up single-track, along forest roads through a campsite, up more single-track, through some boggy stuff, up more single-track, and finally out to the road that would take us up to 10,000′.

For two mostly flatland horses from Yuma, those boys tackled the climb with good humor, and Flash kept offering to show me just how he could trot all the way to the top. (I declined his offer, numerous times.)

We dropped back down off the top of the peak, wound around on some more forest road, through some more single-track, and back up to another 10,000′ point.

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Can’t argue with those views

We had a couple moments at this point where the trail markings got a bit…sketchy…and we made a couple of overshoots/alternate routes before finally getting on the right track.

This first loop was every bit of 30 miles, so we took time along the way to let the boys stop and graze, and there was enough grass along the way that they both got pretty good at the grab-n-go maneuver.

Flash was on fire the entire loop…he just wanted to go, and we had quite a few discussions about keeping the pace to a dull roar. I knew he was strong — at Bumble Bee, it took until about halfway through the first loop for him to really settled into an agreeable pace — but this was 30 miles in and he was still cranking along like a freight train.

The way in and out of camp, at least for this loop, crossed a creek, which made for a nice place to stop and sponge them before walking in to the vet check. Rather unusually, it took several minutes for Flash to pulse down, even after more sponging and eventually pulling tack, but he did get there.

At the Duck rides, he doesn’t want to see you vet in immediately — you’re asked to wait for at least 30 minutes before vetting, the rationale behind it being that adrenaline from just coming off a loop can mask any potential issues, both lameness or metabolic. Although I’ve always preferred to vet right away and have the rest of the hold uninterrupted, I can understand this particular practice.

I got all of my stuff squared away with what I would need for loop 2 — refill my hydration pack and snacks — and settled in for some delicious lunch offerings from Dayna. (Iced cranberry juice is super refreshing. Need to file that one away for future reference.) Taking care of the boys and grabbing lunch pretty much took up the 30 minutes, so we gathered the boys up and went over to vet.

Flash vetted through well initially…appropriately low pulse, good gut sounds and hydration parameters, trotted great…but after we trotted, the vet looked him over again and said he was thumping. Sure enough, you could see the telltale fluttering back on his flank. So that was our day done, though I left the vet with instructions to give him some electrolytes, extra alfalfa and extra calcium (Tums were suggested as a good source), and bring him back in a few hours — if all was cleared up, we could still ride the next day.

So that was a new one for me…I’ve never directly dealt with thumps before, but after dealing with it, I can say that if I have to deal with any sort of metabolic incident, thumps would be the preferable one, because it’s straightforward enough, fairly easy to clear up, and as long as it’s corrected, doesn’t leave any lingering issues. Basically, it’s caused by an electrolyte imbalance that leads to an irregular spasming of the diaphragm. He’d been on a more minimalist electrolyte protocol, but he’s one of those horses who really benefits from a more aggressive electrolyte regimen.

So Troy and Rymoni went out on loop two, and Flash and I got to play battle of the syringes. But I haven’t battled with the pony on this very same issues for years for nothing, and eventually I got a couple doses of crushed Tums down his gullet. It took maybe an hour and half to totally clear up (by which time Flash was thoroughly sick of me hovering, and giving me the disgusted stink-eye “bug off, lady, and leave me alone” look), so after Troy finished, we gathered up both the boys to go over to the vet. Rymoni was good to go, both for his day’s completion as well as to start the next day, and Flash was thoroughly checked over and declared good to go for day two.

Saturday morning rolled around even chillier, with some wind and cloud cover, with more clouds trying to move in. All that meant I actually left my outer layer windbreaker on, since we would be climbing up to 10,000′ again fairly early on, and it was bound to be even chillier at the top.

The plan was to take it really easy on this day — ease Flash into the day, make sure all systems were go, and regularly electrolyte him. He was strong from the start, but much more biddable than day one when it came to requests to ease off or not incessantly tailgate Rymoni. Fortunate, because I definitely had a few protesting muscles, and it took me several miles to settle in. It’s been almost 5 years since I last did back-to-back days, and I was feeling it for a little bit there.

The trail took us through some of the sagebrush flats (watch out for badger holes!) before starting to climb. Up, up, up, into the aspens, making time and trotting where we could, walking all the climbs.

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We were working around and behind those red cliffs

This was our “climb to 10,000′” part of the day, and the views from the top were beyond breathtaking.

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cameras just can’t even come close to doing it justice

I was glad for the jacket — it was definitely chilly as we made our way across the ridgeline for a bit before dropping down into the bowl on the backside and cross-countrying our way down to the drainage/trail.

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we came from up there where those trees are

The next section was about 4 miles of pretty much downhill, hardpack, rocky road. We took it easy and walked a lot of it, with intermittent jog-jog sections when it was decent enough footing for the first couple miles, then in smoothed and leveled out enough to pick up the pace again. We eventually made one big loop, and came out on the sage brush from earlier in the morning.

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more sage brush, more badger holes to avoid

This morning’s loop wasn’t as long as day one — I think it was about 25 miles by the time we got back in to camp. Both boys were down right away (yay! That hanging pulse of Flash’s on day one had been the first red flag), so we repeated the same routine — give them food, sit down and eat our own lunches, go vet. Vet check was an all clear this time, so we headed back to the trailer to wrap up the last few vet-check niceties (bathroom, last bit of food, bridle, and go…).

We were out on loop two right on our out time, and Flash cheerfully took up leading, heading out one more time on the familiar creek-crossing trail in/out of camp. And I had my favorite version of Flash — relaxed and happy, easy trotting in the lead on a loose rein.

On this loop, we would follow part of the first loop from day one, so we were on super-familiar turf. Along the way, we picked up Miriam, who had gotten a bit turned around, and she ended up hanging out with us for the rest of the ride. She was super fun to ride with, and I always enjoy meeting and befriending another person in the sport within my own age bracket.

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up in the “Norwegian Forest” on loop two; one of my favorite sections with singletrack trail looping through the aspens

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Troy & Rymoni; Miriam & Mighty

The “Norwegian Forest” section of this loop basically cut off the whole “climb to 10,000′” part of the previous day, and connected over to the same last 7 or 8 miles in to camp from day one/loop one. As soon as the trail connected, Flash knew exactly where we were, and his homing pigeon radar kicked in. He was more than keen to go, but we just kept to the same strategy we’d been doing all day of a nice steady pace. Plus, there was so much grass along the way, and all three boys were more than happy to stop and graze their way into the finish.

Of course, we couldn’t end the ride without a bit of humor and hilarity. We stopped in the larger creek crossing just a mile or so out from camp for one last sponging…and I managed to lose my hold on the sponge string and send it straight into the water. Water that was over knee-deep on Flash. I’m 5’4″. Flash is 15.3. There was no way I was going to manage the “lean over and retrieve an object” trick, so I was resigned to hopping off into the creek for sponge retrieval. Fortunately Miriam came to my rescue — she’s tall, and adorable Mighty is a tiny little power pony, so she was able to lean over and snag the errant sponge for me. Crisis averted! (And I didn’t have to get my feet wet.)

It was a pleasant surprise to find out when we crossed the finish line we were in 5th/6th/7th…we had really taken it easy through the whole day, and rode the ride that the boys needed, and just stayed consistent. Completion awards for the day were really cool insulated stainless steel water bottles — I can never have too many water bottles.

Sunday morning, we wrapped up camp and hit the road…back down to Mt Carmel for the night again, and then home again Monday. Dad volunteered to drive up to Troy and Claire’s place outside of Prescott to pick me up, so that was fun for him to get to meet Flash in person (since I’ve been talking about this horse since April), and I had someone to rehash the weekend to on the drive back home.

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Flash enjoying one last roll at Mt Carmel before hitting the road again

So, Flash and I both go to Tevis in a little over a week…although not together. Flash will be taking a rider from Australia through, and I will be riding my favorite “summer camp pony,” Roo, who has shown up on this blog numerous times (I’ve crewed for him and Lucy at Tevis twice, ridden him in the Tahoe Rim 50, and pre-ridden parts of the Tevis trail on half a dozen occasions).

I would definitely keep the Strawberry ride on my “must do rides” list…the scenery is amazing, and it’s a good, challenging, true endurance ride. Great pre-Tevis prep, and a great ride to teach a horse to take care of themselves.

And after Tevis? Who knows. The thing about catch riding is I rarely have plans set in stone. I’ve learned to be very flexible, and take opportunities as they come up. But I know I’ll happily ride Flash again any time he’s offered!

Ride Prep, Tevis edition

When I was growing up, I liked watching movies. A lot of Disney movies, to be precise. (Sorry, Mom and Dad. There’re probably still some songs permanently stuck in your heads.) There’s one movie preview/commercial thing I remember watching…two young boys, packing for a trip to Disneyland, all excitement and anticipation. The older one is dispensing wisdom to his younger brother, they get everything packed into the suitcase…and the punchline of the whole thing is when the older one says, “We’ll be leaving in about three weeks.”

I can relate to this, because I was the kid who was usually packed a full week before leaving for any family vacation. (Which was a problem when I packed away things I still needed.)

For the most part, that’s really changed, and my typical packing routine now is to prep ahead of time — use the week before to make sure I’e got everything I need, go shop for whatever, and then pull everything together the day before. (Mostly because my dogs pout and sulk as soon as the suitcase comes out, so I try to spare them the stress and worry until the last minute.)

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must you go anywhere, mommy?

But right now? I feel very much like I could pack everything and twiddle my thumbs for the next two weeks. I may be going in with a “cheerfully realistic” view (I know Roo will give me his best effort, and I’ll do whatever I need to do on my end to manage him and keep him cheerful, and we’ll get as far as we get), but that doesn’t take away from my excitement levels of seeing my name on the sign-up list and just being able to start the ride.

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as seen on http://teviscup.org/2018_tevis_rider_list

Just like Virginia City last year — this is not according to plan. But it’s an opportunity and a chance, which is more than what I would have just sitting around and waiting for life to come together in alignment with what I think it should look like.

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Shared this on Facebook this morning, courtesy of theawkwardyeti.com

With two weeks until I leave, and two and a half weeks until the ride, things are coming together. My dad volunteered to come up and help crew, which means more to me than I can adequately express in a blog post. Riding Tevis together has been our goal for years, and that hasn’t changed…but the fact that he’s willing to come crew me through the attempt is one of the best parts of this whole endeavor. (And he’s crewed for me at several “home” rides in the past, and he’s an A+ crew.)

Of course, I’m now moving into the “second-guess and overthink things” phase, in which I ponder last-minute gear shopping, or what clothing to wear at what point. (Hey, we’re at least gonna look good for photos.) I think I’ve got the critical stuff checked off, so now it’s just “mental fiddling” as I count down the days.

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Happy birthday, Mimi!

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This might be one of my new favorite pictures. I successfully captured the “essence” of Mimi. It’s currently being used as my lock screen background on my phone, so I see this perky face every time I pick up my phone.

I can’t believe my baby pony girl is a quarter of a century old. We have literally grown up together — she was 3, I was 11 — and she still delights me as much now as she did 20 years ago.

I love that she still has all of her pony sass and shenanigans, her opinions, her work ethic, and her heart.

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Playing with some barrels and pattern work.

I’ve been battling some slight lameness with her for the past several months — nothing obvious or particularly major, but subtle and consistent. I chalked it up to her age, and the likelihood of something like arthritis or ringbone. As it turned out, I’d just let her feet get away from me, and she just needed a good toe shortening and correction of some rather overlaid bar. (She’s a good example of where the “benign neglect and self-trimming” approach really doesn’t work. To this day, I still have to stay really aggressive and on top of her feet and trimming.) Once that was addressed, she’s been back to feeling 100%, and the last couple of weekends, I’ve gotten some amazing work from her.

In an effort to keep things interesting, I’ve been dabbling in learning more about Working Equitation after spectating part of a demo at an expo a few weeks ago. It looks intriguing, and it’s something I can see myself pursuing on the side, and as a way to cross-train my endurance ponies. Mimi and I already have all of the training down — much of it is very similar to what we did for years in the show ring, between trail courses, reining, western riding, and gymkhana.

So the past couple of weekends, I’ve been putting together mini-obstacles and giving them a try. Mimi is loving it. It’s something new, and it’s just different enough from what we’ve done in the past that she’s very attentive, and trying very hard to “figure it out.” Also helps that it’s done at a lot more speed than the slow, exacting trail course type of work, so needless to say, she’s totally on board with that.

So all of that to say that she doesn’t feel or act her age, and in her world, 25 is nowhere near full retirement age. So we keep going, as long as she’s willing and happy.

She got birthday presents. 

She also got “cake.” (homemade carrot oatmeal breakfast bars)

Through Their Ears

For curiosity’s sake, I sat down and started tallying up how many horses I’ve ridden. Taking into account everything from test rides of sale horses to endurance competitions, in over 25 years of riding, I’ve ridden 80+ different horses, and just in endurance alone, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the chance to compete on over a dozen different horses.

That’s a lot of different sets of ears through which I’ve viewed the trail, and a lot of “other people’s horses.” And I’ve learned something from all of them.

(And several others that I never got any ear!cam shots.)

 

Ride Story: Bumble Bee 50 2018

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photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

In a roundabout way, I ended up with a ride entry to Bumble Bee via the Convention raffle (friend won it, but wasn’t going to be able to make it to the ride, so offered it to me), but found myself with none of my prior catch rides available. So I let a couple of friends know I was available and looking for a horse, and left it at that. Worse case scenario, if I couldn’t find a ride, I would be able to transfer my entry to next year, and I would go up and volunteer.

A week and half out from the ride, I got a Facebook message from Troy Eckard, with an offer to ride his second horse, Flash, if I was interested. It was an offer than needed no thought whatsoever, and within seconds, I was on the phone confirming that “yes, please, I would be quite interested.” Flash is experienced, with over 1000 miles and a Tevis completion last summer, and this ride was to serve as another notch in his conditioning belt towards Tevis this summer.

Of course, the weekend before the ride, I started battling a head cold, but spent several days throwing every kind of odd concoction I could find down the hatch, and I think the cold germs finally just gave up in disgust and fled (granted, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, honey, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, and horseradish is a little odd, but I promise, it tasted better than it sounds or smells), because I was feeling completely back to normal by the Thursday of ride week, and woke up Friday morning absolutely ready to rock the ride.

I had also arranged to do a boot fitting for a good friend (the credit/blame goes to her for being the one to introduce my father and I to more “extreme” trail riding, thus setting us off on what would eventually lead to endurance) that morning up in Camp Verde…normally way outside how far I’m willing to travel, but for that long-standing of a friend, and given the fact I would already be more than halfway up there for Bumble Bee, I made an exception. So I spent a couple of hours with her and her four horses, getting everyone sized and fitted and catching up on life before I headed back down to Bumble Bee.

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Bumble Bee and Crown King…two of my favorite destinations for my riding and running activities. I feel like I’ve traveled back this road a number of times now. 8 times, as a matter of fact.

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Driving through the burn area…this spot got hit last summer with the “Maggie” Fire — while not that large at 1400 acres, it burned across a section of the Black Canyon Trail, and came right up to the southern perimeter of Bumble Bee Ranch. They’ve also had no appreciable rain since April of last year, so everything is still really dry and crunchy, with no regrowth over the winter.

Every year, I cuss out the dirt portion of the road to the ranch, and habitually forget that I drive a 4WD truck until about a mile or so in, at which point I remember, “Those 4WD control buttons on your dash are there for a reason.” And then my 4WD gets its annual use.

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The amusement factor of this sign never gets old. Pretty sure there are more cows every year, though.

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Home sweet ridecamp. I’ve made it here five out of the six years the ride has been held, so it’s familiar stomping grounds for me at this point.

I got myself checked in and did some socializing, and once Troy arrived, went over to meet my ride.

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Meet Flash. Say hello, Flash.

Like I mentioned, Flash has some good experience under his girth. He’s also tall (15.2 or 15.3 using my highly scientific “his withers are higher than my eyebrows” method), gorgeous, and has “opinions” about just about everything in life. He is personality+ and I adored him immediately.

We got camp set up, then headed over to vet in the boys (Flash, and Troy’s mount Rymoni).

All day, it had been blowing gale-force winds (pretty sure I heard predicted there would be gusts up to 60mph at times), but we needed to get stirrups on Flash’s saddle adjusted for me, as well as the whole “maybe get to know the horse, at least briefly” aspect…so we saddled up for a quick pre-ride. Right away, we set a good tone with Flash standing politely while I climbed on and we fiddled with the stirrups, then meandered out of camp.

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Saddled up and ready to go. My inner tack ho fashionista approves of the black/silver tack for him. It adds to the “badass warhorse” image.

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Casual stroll through the desert. Wind conditions? NBD. Flapping sheet metal? Generated one little snort and side-eye. Cows? Lemme at ’em.

The wind didn’t faze either of the boys, and we got a good stretch in…mostly walking, tossed in a bit of trotting to stretch them out, and a very brief canter, so I could get a feel for all of Flash’s gaits.

They do the ride dinner Friday evening before briefing — Bumble Bee Ranch puts out a nice spread of spaghetti and meatballs and salad, and the pavilion is a great spot for both dinner and ride briefing.

Ride start for the 50s was 6:00AM (yay, beat the heat!), so the boys got to go for a little leg stretch walk, then got tucked in with light blankets for the night. I gotta admit, even if it gets warm in the day, I kind of prefer the April ride date over the January one…much more pleasant overnight temperatures.

Ride morning, I was up plenty early, my standard two hours before the start to give myself time to ease into the morning — dress, coffee, eat — without rushing around. I already had my hydration pack set with water and food, and extra water bottles ready for the saddle. Tacking up was a quick affair, Flash again stood quietly for me to get on, and we meandered over to the start on a loose rein with a couple minutes to spare.

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Chillin’ at the start. Tammy, Troy, and myself.

I’ve had some interesting ride starts in the past, so I’m never quite sure what to expect…especially since I could feel Flash literally quivering with anticipation. I had internally steeled myself for the inevitable rocket launch when the “Trail’s Open” call was given…and we casually walked out on a loose rein.

Okaaayyyy. With just a bit of encouragement from me, Flash clicked over into his power walk, and the front half of the 11 starters in the 50 made their way calmly through the ranch and out onto the trail where everyone picked up a trot and started cruising down the trail. The main objective in this first section was “keep it to a dull roar” and while Flash was strong and would have liked to go faster, he was certainly obedient enough to my request the tone it down just a bit.

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photo: John Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

We had a clever little checkpoint out at Antelope Falls, where the trail for the 50s breaks off from the shared trail and heads further east for several miles before cutting back in and rejoining the shared trail. In the past, riders have been asked to pick up some kind of token, but this year, there was sign with a question on it, and you would be asked for the answer back at camp during the one-hour hold. Nice to not have to worry about losing some kind of token, or jumping off to sign a clipboard.

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Antelope Falls. Normally there’s water there, but everything was so dry this year. Our checkpoint question was on the white sign.

My favorite section of this ride is the Black Canyon Trail — all single-track, fairly smooth, with just a few rocky areas and enough ups and downs to keep it very interesting. It’s a trail that really helps to have an athletic horse…one that had a former life as a dressage horse was a major bonus.

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On the Black Canyon Trail, making our way (eventually) towards camp

I’ve run or ridden this section of the BCT multiple times now, and it never fails to delight me. It’s scenic, it’s interesting, it keeps you and the horse paying attention. To me, that all adds up to what makes a really fun trail.

The trail eventually ends up in a wash that has a tiny little creek running through it — another favorite section of trail. This time, I laugh a lot as Flash was being a bit prissy about the whole “trotting through the water” idea. He thought we should be to the side of it, or jumping over it, and when we’d start trotting through it, I could see him actually wrinkling his nose up a little bit. Again, “opinions.” He also couldn’t possibly drink out of the stream water…but as soon as we hit the water troughs set out in front of the ranch, he tanked up.

The horses (and riders) get a bit of a mind-twist at this point. The trail for the 25s goes right up into the ranch, but the 50s end up heading up the wash for another several miles before looping back down and coming in the same way we went out in the morning. Both boys kept glancing over as we headed up the wash, just looking for a break in the vegetation, or a trail that would offer the first opportunity to cut east and head back. Their wish was eventually granted…several miles later.

The trail coming back into camp is pretty nice, although there are several gates to be opened, but we took it easy, backing off the pace the closer we got, and hopping off and hand-jogging in the last quarter mile before walking the last 100 yards or so. They boys had drank really well not far out from camp, so they weren’t interested in the in-camp water when offered, so we immediately went over to pulse and both were down right away.

They got a little bit of time back at the trailer first to eat, then we took them back over to vet. Passed with flying colors, and then back to the trailer again to chow and snooze. I got my pack ready to go back out on loop 2 — refill water, add more food — then briefly sat down to eat a quick lunch and send a quick text update to friends/family. The hour hold actually zoomed by, and before long, it was time to head back over to the out-timer, with a couple minutes to spare.

The first part of loop two is called the “Miner Bob” loop, apparently named after a miner in the area. It’s got a lot of mining claims, and still some kind of mining activity here and there. It’s a more technical, slow-going loop — part of it is winding through a wash in a canyon (Troy and I were both at Virginia City 100 last year, and did some reminiscing about how at least this section was easier than Bailey Canyon at VC), so there’s some slowing down through rough footing.

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Our daily dose of rock climbing

There were more hills and climbs on this section, too, and Flash is a great climber, so he and I lead through this section multiple times. Leading is definitely his happy place, and his enthusiasm was infectious…several times, as I would duck alongside his neck for an overhanging tree branch, I couldn’t help but just giggle. He’s definitely a horse that makes me laugh.

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Trot anything that’s smooth, walk the rough.

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Last climb out from Miner Bob Loop

Once clear of Miner Bob Loop, it was back onto the Black Canyon Trail, this time heading in the opposite direction from the first loop. But first, a pause down in the creek, for a drink and for Flash to proceed to pose for photographer Sue Kordish.

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The last two especially are my favorites. He is such a ham for the camera, and I could feel him deliberately focusing on Sue, and then doing some kind of little pose or showoff moment.

I finally had to convince the showman to get his butt back on the trail, which he did, and quite cheerfully as soon as he realized we were leading out. I had the best time ever the next 5 miles or so back up the BCT in the lead, and it felt like we danced down that trail. He was soft, responsive, and so incredibly tuned in to whatever I was asking.

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Leading ears on the BCT

I always feel supremely fortunate whenever I experience one of those “horsey zen” moments at a ride, and this was definitely one of them.

Coming off the BCT, we rejoined the same trail from the morning, minus the detour out to Antelope Falls, and eventually connected to the very same in-trail from loop one. We followed the same routine of slowly backing their pace off the closer we got to camp, coming in at an easy jog, and meandering across the finish line, with a round of rock-paper-scissors to determine placing order.

We also found out we were in 2nd and 3rd — which was quite a surprise, as we had been sitting in 4th/5th all day, but somewhere in the last few miles, the two in front of us made a navigation error, and they ended up coming in about 10 minutes behind us.

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Finished! 3rd place, ride time of 6:21.

That also meant getting to show for Best Condition — the first time for me! The vets did a CRI 10 minutes after finishing, and then we took the boys back to the trailer to clean them up and let them eat before BC judging an hour after our finish time.

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Doing our trot-out for the CRI
photo: Sue Kordish, Cowgirl Photography

Troy’s Rymoni came away with Best Condition, but I was pretty tickled to find out that Flash had the high vet score. Always super gratifying to know that you rode well, finished well, and the horse looked good.

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Out for a walk later that afternoon. Both showered and cleaned up, and still enjoying each other’s company.

Because I don’t particularly like driving down I-17 and back into Phoenix on a weekend evening (hello, crazier-than-normal traffic)…and I don’t spend nearly as much time with my endurance tribe as I would like…I had decided to stay over Saturday night, then head back home Sunday morning. Good call, as it made for a leisurely afternoon, plenty of socializing, and not having to mainline large amount of caffeine to avoid being zombie!driver.

Sunday morning, it was super-cute to see how cheerful Flash looked — I came around the corner of the trailer, and he looked up, ears up and eyes bright, like, “Oh, it’s you! Hi!!” And I didn’t even have food for him. ;) Safe to say I definitely connected very strongly with him. He took really good care of me, made me laugh countless times, and I just felt really strong and confident riding him. It was an eye-opening, inspiring weekend, that’s for sure.

I have no idea what’s next on the books, since the AZ ride season winds down from now until the fall, but as always, just kind of playing everything by ear and taking things as they come…