Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50 2019

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photo by John Kordish

Man Against Horse will always hold a special place in my heart. It was my first AERC ride, the LD back in 2005. It’s also a tough, challenging ride, especially the 50-miler. Historically, I’ve gone up against the 50 three times…and finished once. Perversely, I still love this ride, and the challenge makes me all the more determined to conquer it.

So I was pleased to be offered a ride for the 50-miler this year when Cristina reached out to me to see if I was available and interested in riding Atti. I did the 75 at McDowell on him two years ago and had a great ride — he’s a safe, fun, go-getter little guy, and as a bonus, trains regularly on many of the Man Against Horse trails, so this would be his home turf.

Friday late morning saw me chucking my gear and some food into my truck, then zipping up the highway a couple hours north to Prescott Valley to pick up Cristina’s trailer and Atti. Now, I haven’t had a trailer since 2011, and prior to that, we had the big truck, so my suburban hasn’t had to do any trailer hauling duty for probably at least a decade, so there were more than a few muttered “please let me make it to camp” prayers after I hitched up and headed down the road. (Pleased that I have lost none of my vehicle aligning/trailer hitching skills, even if it was a comedy of errors to get the right hitch dialed in.) I only had a 20-minute, mostly flat and easy drive in which to contemplate brewing an ulcer though, and we made it into camp with no issues.

Troy and Claire had saved me a parking spot in camp, so I didn’t have to do the typical avoidance run of “don’t park in the middle of a rock pile or cactus patch” that someones comes with the territory of camping in the middle of a cow pasture. This was probably the most “on my own” I’ve been at a ride since retiring Mimi, and selling the truck and trailer, but I quickly fell back into doing my thing.

One thing catch riding has definitely done has been to knock off a lot of my uptight, control freak rough edges, and I feel like I’ve actually gotten pretty laid back and settled about the whole production, especially Friday afternoons before the ride. I used to be ridiculously neurotic about “OMG EVERYTHING HAS TO GET DONE AND THIS HAS TO HAPPEN AND…AND…AND…” and if I wasn’t right on top of things, or I didn’t check in right away or didn’t vet as soon as vetting started, it was grounds for a nervous meltdown. I recognize a lot of that for the nerves and inexperience that it was, but with catch riding, and operating more off of so many other people’s schedules, it’s really taught me some valuable flexibility, going with the flow, and that the world doesn’t end if things don’t fall 100% in accordance with The Schedule of Ashley.

So I got Atti settled and my little camp set up, socialized and blew off some mental steam (I love my endurance family, just putting that out there), checked in, socialized a bit more, got Atti’s saddle all set up, vetted in with no drama (all As, and a smart little trot-out), then tacked up and headed out for a short pre-ride. Had to fuss with the stirrup length at one point, but other than that, we were ready to roll the next morning. Back at camp, I tucked Atti in front of his dinner, then rounded up my homemade blueberry crisp and headed over to a potluck dinner gathering before ride briefing.

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afternoon pre-ride

I’ve done this ride half a dozen times prior…3 years of the LD, 3 years of the 50. The trail doesn’t change, vet checks are the same, pink ribbons on your right. 6:30am start for the 50, 30 minute hold at vet check 1, 45 minute hold at vet check 2, pulse-n-go at vet check 3. Pulse parameters of 60 all day. One thing I should mention for anyone not familiar with this ride — it’s called Man Against Horse for a reason — riders and their horses are sharing the trail and competing with runners. Just like the ride, there is a 12/25/50 mile run distance offered. It’s a super-unique thing, with only a couple of rides in the world offering it that I’m aware of (the Vermont 100/Moonlight in Vermont on the east coast, and a Man Against Horse in the UK). Because of my handful of years of dabbling in trail running, I have friends both riding and running, so it’s a fun merging of two of my worlds.

Post-briefing, I checked Atti, settled him in with a warmer blanket and more hay, packed the last few things in my crew bag — all I needed to add was my food/lunch in the morning — then retired to the comfy sofa bed Claire had offered. (My endurance family spoils me.)

As typical for pre-ride nights, sleep was a little bit elusive, and I felt like I drifted in and out all night, but at some point, I must have fallen asleep, because I was rudely awoken by my 4am “get up and feed Atti” alarm. Crawled out of bed, loaded him up with some more hay and a dose of electrolytes, put my riding clothes on…and then crawled back into bed for another hour. By 5:15, I was fully up, mainlining my precious cup of coffee (ride mornings, I reluctantly limit my caffeine-addicted self to one cup) and stuffing in some breakfast before doing my final crew bag last-minute packing and hauling it over to the truck that would take it to the vet checks. This ride is one of the few remaining “single loop” courses, so all the vet checks are out  along the trail and you don’t come back to camp until the finish.

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ride map

Atti was saddled, and my butt was in the saddle a good 20 minutes before the start, checking in with ride management, and giving Atti some warm-up time. He was really “up” for him — this ride is very high energy at the start, with an en masse shotgun start of horses and runners all taking off, in and out of a rocky wash and then up a wide, gentle uphill grade. “Wild” is often the kindest way to describe the annual start line antics, and it can set off even the best-behaved horses. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see Atti transform into a bit of a “I’m Superman, let me fly” attitude.

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pre-start…he’s the cutest little guy

My friend Taylor and I had made plans to at least start together for some moral support and “don’t let me die” safety in numbers. We ended up going out a couple minutes after everyone else, dealt with some shenanigans for the first half-mile or so, and then it was smooth sailing, and by the time we hit a few miles in, both boys were cruising along.

The first 9 miles is a pretty smooth cruise — a few miles of sand wash, some gentle rolling hills, mostly double-track road through grassy plains. At mile 9, the trail changes to single-track, and more of the climbing starts. “The Grapevine” dips in and out of a sandy/rocky streambed at the bottom of a canyon, and it’s one of my favorite sections of trail, especially on a handy little mountain goat. We traded off leading for a bit, then put Atti in the lead, and he scampered through this section. He’s surefooted and nimble, and flies over narrow single-track without batting an eye. After a few miles, the trail turns out of the streambed and starts climbing, up through stands of manzanita and scrub oak, and opens up to views out towards Prescott Valley and Prescott beyond.

On the way up to the vet check, we saw photographers Susan and John Kordish, who got fantastic pics as always.

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photo by Susan Kordish

In to vet check 1 right about 9, which was absolutely perfect and right on track with my rough internal timeclock I had in mind for ride times/goals. Atti took a big drink when we got in, and was pulsed down by the time he finished drinking. I had an absolutely lovely surprise coming into the check — Claire was waiting to crew for me! Troy had already come in to the check, and left just before I came in, and Claire stayed to give me a hand. Like I said, I’m so spoiled, and very thankful…I was not expecting crew at all, and it was delightful to have an extra set of hands, or to be able to hand his reins over and briefly sit down and take care of myself for a few minutes.

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super-flattering mid-shake…which he also likes to do under saddle

Atti’s vet scores were good — a couple of Bs on hydration parameters, but everything else As, and he’d been drinking well so far. Before heading out, I switched him over to his hackamore, electrolyted him, mounted up and we were out of there right on time. The next section of the ride is a lot of forest roads. A couple miles of some interesting quasi-cross-country  and some zippy little single-track bits, but for the most part, lots of lots of dirt road. The longest stretch is about a 9-mile section. It’s very rocky, tends to be slow-going, and a very good section of trail to share with a buddy. Atti and Taylor’s gelding Mouss were still pacing well together, so our plan was to stick together as long as the boys were happy, and it really took the potential doldrums out of this section. Sure, we whined about the rocks, but did a lot of laughing, and I’m pretty sure we chatted non-stop for a solid 48 out of 50 miles.

The “highlight” of the 50 is the climb up Mingus Mountain to vet check 2 — a roughly 1800′ elevation gain in about 3 miles, on single-rack that can have some steep, technical, or steep and technical sections. Before starting the climb, we paused for a few minutes at the checkpoint and water stop strategically placed just before it. There was some fresh green mountain grass growing, enough for some good grazing time and fortification before tackling the climb.

It starts innocuous enough. Narrow singletrack, but a gradual grade. And then it turns interesting real quick, with some sharp turns and steep step-ups. I hopped off Atti on a couple of sections to give him a break — at 13.3, he’s not a big guy, and I’m about 20 pounds more than what he’s used to carrying, so I was doing everything I could to make it easier for him. We were also at about 6000′ elevation at that point, so that’s always super-fun for this flatlander desert rat to try to breathe and hike up a climb at the same time.

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before the tough climbing started

Fortunately the climb levels out partway through, so there’s a chance for some easy walking recovery before the second part of the climb, and a ton of grass growing along the trail, so Atti worked diligently on perfecting his grab-n-go grazing skills. The second part of the climb also has some interesting “rock stairstep” sections that are a little technical, so I hopped off again, lead through a couple of them, then let Atti go ahead and tailed off of him for some of the steeper uphill climbing portions. Finally, after a few more switchbacks, we reached the top of the mountain. It was about a mile of easy forest road into the check, and after walking/climbing that much, it felt really good to let him out and easy trot down the road.

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about halfway there — we’re heading to the top where all the trees are. this is my favorite photo spot because the leaves are always starting to change.

Coming into the check, I hopped off and walked the last little bit in, let him drink (and drink, and drink) and by the time he was done, he was pulsed down. We were in a little before 1, so still right within the time frame I had expected, especially given how rocky the trail was this year. Claire and Taylor’s mom Luci had set up our crew bags for us in a nice spot, and after getting Atti settled in front of his hay and pan of grain, I just plopped myself right down on the ground next to him and proceeded to tuck into my own lunch.

There had been a line for the vet when we first came in and pulsed down, so I gave Atti some time to eat first, and once the vet line cleared up, headed over for our check. Again, some Bs on hydration parameters, but all As everywhere else and vet said he looked great. We still had a bit of time before our out-time, so back in front of the food for both of us for a few more minutes before wrapping up the crew bag, electrolyting, and mounting up.

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photo by Susan Kordish

Heading out from the check, the first couple miles of trail is lovely — single track, weaving through the pine trees. I even ended up flushing a flock of wild hen turkeys out — came around a corner and started up a climb and saw about half a dozen of them on the trail ahead of me. As soon as they saw us, they headed up the hill further, and wow, can they move fast. But that was super cool, as it was my first time seeing turkeys in the wild here in AZ.

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turkeys! I promise, they’re there (circled in pink)

Shortly thereafter, the trail kind of degenerated into a bit of a singletrack rock pile. What used to be this smooth-flowing, slightly downhill trail that you could just fly down has gotten super-rocky, to where it’s impossible to really make time on. At that point, I hopped off and started hiking, with Atti trucking along cheerfully behind me. (Cristina runs and hike with him all the time, so on singletrack trails, you can clip your reins to the saddle and take off in the lead, and he’ll follow right along behind.) I know it was probably only a couple of miles, but it felt longer, and it was a major relief to pop back out to one of the checkpoints we had gone through earlier, back out onto forest road. It may be road, but we could finally move out again! Both boys were more than happy to make up some time here and kicked into a trot, then canter. We were able to make pretty short work of the several miles of road between checkpoints before hopping onto another singletrack trail. Fortunately, this one was in better shape, and aside from slowing for a few sections of rocks early on, we were able to make much better time.

That singletrack spit us back out onto another forest road, right before the last vet check — a pulse and go style of check. We brought them in nice and easy, let them drink, both pulsed down and trotted out for the vet, and then they sent us on our way — only 7 miles to the finish, and literally all downhill from here. Another rocky section of trail put from the check, and then we were on one of my favorite trail sections. It’s smooth singletrack, and it switchbacks down the side of a canyon, all the way down to the bottom. It’s really trottable, and super fun on a nimble horse. Atti knows this trail really well, and he flew down it. By the time we reached the bottom, both boys were firmly in “going home” mode, and it took absolutely no encouragement to keep them moving. There’s another bit of road section, and then the last two miles from camp heads across open pasture, into a wash, and then back into open pasture, following cow paths right back into camp.  I’m pretty sure Atti would have galloped in if I let him, but I kept him to a smart trot the whole way in, and we crossed the finish line right at 5:15 pm.

After he tanked up at the finish line water trough, we vetted through right away, my heart in my throat the whole time after my finish line pull at this ride in 2017. But no worries this time — Atti trotted out beautifully, good scores, and we were officially finished! Took him back to the trailer and got him untacked, wrapped legs, tucked into a fleecy cooler, and settled him in front of a huge pile of hay.

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Finished! Sound, happy pone and tired, happy rider.

I had perfect timing — once Atti was all taken care of, it was just in time for ride dinner and awards. For all 50-mile finishers, they hand out beautiful buckles. I earned my first buckle at this ride in 2009 on Mimi, and now my second one a decade later.

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By the time awards wrapped up, it was getting late enough I decided to stay in camp for the night rather than tackle the 2-hour drive home…and I had the sofa bed and a hot shower on offer again, so I spent the rest of the evening talking horses, ride strategy, AERC politics, and more horses with Troy and Claire.

Atti was bright-eyed and still talking to me the following morning, and looked good when I took him for a leg stretch first thing. He was also quite happy to be clean-up crew for the extra grain as I worked on cleaning out my crew bag and getting camp packed up. It didn’t take too long to get everything in order, load up, say good-byes, and head down the road. Dropped off Atti and the trailer, got him settled, then headed back down to the Valley.

This year has been light on the ride happenings for me, with a lot of ups and downs in regards to plans and horses, so it felt really good to get this one on the books and have it be so successful, and I’m grateful to Cristina for once again entrusting me with her special pony.

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photo by John Kordish

Heart Horses

I think anyone who has been around horses for any length of time has heard the term “heart horse.” That special horse with whom you share a special bond, an almost indescribable feeling you get when you’re around them.

I found the above video yesterday, courtesy of my Facebook feed, and I couldn’t help but tear up as I watched it. I love some of the descriptions they use…how they are “…the horse that brings out the best in you…not only teaches you to be a better rider, but a better person.”

I’d never quite heard it put into words that way, but I think that describes it really well. I can say I’ve learned something from every horse I’ve ridden, and there are very few times I’ve ever regretted climbing into the saddle…but those heart horses…they’re something special.

I got very, very lucky: my first horse is one of my heart horses. Not too many people are that fortunate right off the bat to end up with a lifetime heart horse that they keep for a couple decades and counting. Granted, I spent several years of riding lesson horses before I ever got Mimi, but some of those lesson horses did their best to try to dissuade a small, horse-crazy child from further pursuing her passion.

Fortunately, there were enough good ones — the priceless schoolmasters — that kept me in the saddle and kept me going. But until that first time I climbed onto Mimi’s back, I didn’t know a horse could make me feel that way. The naughty ones had terrified me, and the schoolmasters took care of me through the fear…but on Mimi? For the first time ever on the back of a horse, I felt fearless. Together, we could go anywhere, do anything…we could fly.

Of course, that feeling didn’t always exist…for the next couple of years, there was a steep learning curve of young rider + young pony, with more than one session that ended in tears (since I was too young to curse at the time). But I always clung to that feeling I had on our initial ride together, knowing what was possible.

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together, we can fly

Do we get more than one heart horse in life? I certainly like to think so, or hope so. I’ve gotten along well with pretty much all of the catch horses I’ve ridden, have clicked with a few of them, and yes, have even felt that same “together, we can fly” feeling with one.

So, what is it about a heart horse that makes them special? Everyone is probably going to have their own answer for that. It may not necessarily involve logic. In fact, if you sat down and made a pros and cons list of that horse’s characteristics, there’s probably a subheading somewhere on that list of “All The Reasons This Is A Bad Idea.” But there’s a reason they’re called “heart horses” and not “brain horses,” because while the brain is chewing over logic, the heart is daydreaming of the most recent Magical Moment with that horse.

It may not even take much. Half an arena length of a perfectly balanced, floating canter. A whiskery nuzzle against your cheek to sop up tear tracks. Whatever silly shenanigans they’ve most recently come up with (such as why my 26-yr-old pony has suddenly reverted back to her juvenile behavior of destroying her fly masks on a weekly basis?!?).

Or it’s something huge, like such a feeling of confidence and connection that you have to curb the impulse to jump on their bare back and head off to parts unknown. The forgiveness and trust they extend, even when you’ve done things that should have broken it. The lessons they are gracious enough to teach. Knowing when they absolutely need to take care of their rider.

Large or small, those moments all add up into a wonderful kaleidoscope of memories and feelings that envelope you, and you want to laugh, and smile, and cry all at the same time, because it’s a feeling that’s hard to compare to anything else.

One of my favorite tights companies, PerformaRide, recently released their 2019 limited edition range of tights and accessories, and this year’s theme is “Empower.” Four prints/designs, each with a different animal as a totem of an element of personal empowerment and the feelings we have in the saddle. Flamingo: Graceful; Tiger: Power; Wolf: Courage; Horse: Freedom. I really can’t think of a better way to distill down the essence of what I feel in the saddle than that.

For sure I’m more graceful dancing up the trail with my horse than when I’ve shuffled the same trail on my own two feet. Power? We all know the notion that we can physically control a 1000-pound flight animal is laughable…but the true power comes from being in a partnership with said 1000-pound flight animal, and them trusting me enough to let me guide them. “In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.” Nothing more needs said, other than to celebrate the feeling of cantering through the desert, with nothing but the sound of hoofbeats, snorting nostrils, and the wind whispering past your ears. And courage…it’s taken a lot of courage to get me in the saddle on many occasions. But in return, I’ve seen that courage come back to me, with that incredible, “take on the world and fly” feeling.

Are they perfect? Hahahaha…no. See above about the “teaching you to be a better rider.” And better horseperson. And how to think outside the box. How to question the norm. What to do when “what you’ve always done” doesn’t work. They also make me want to be better. To figure out the why behind a behavior or other challenge, and figure out what they might be trying to tell me. To better my skills, my knowledge, my communication. I’ve learned better emotional control, and impulse control. I’ve learned to let go, trust the horse more, and to not micromanage. To pick my battles. That those extraordinary horses in life may comes with a few extras quirks, shenanigans, and speed bumps in the road.

To those special, special horses who have left your hoofprints permanently embedded in my heart…thank you. For everything. The good moments, and the bad. The times I’ve wanted to scream or cry, and the times I’ve wanted to shout from the rooftops. The life lessons. The mane to cry in. The whiskery muzzle to smooch. The shenanigans, the laughter, the headaches, the heartaches. All of it has shaped my life, and contributed to the building blocks of who I am.

Your turn, readers…Let’s hear about your heart horse(s) and celebrate these special equines in our lives!

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Crewing Tevis 2019

This year, I was actually pretty “waffle-y” on whether I was going to go to Tevis or not.  Earlier in the summer, I was pretty set on the idea that I wasn’t going. I’d had a taste for riding it the previous year, had fallen short, and although I hadn’t had high expectations for the day…it still stung, and I was battling back a lot of “if I can’t ride, I don’t want to go” feelings.

Well, that lasted until my friend Cathy messaged me, wondering if I possibly had any Tevis plans, and if I didn’t, if there was a possibility I might be interested in crewing. She’d asked me several previous years, but I was always otherwise committed to someone else, but this year, the way the cards ended up falling for various and sundry people, I was still un-booked when she contacted me. It was also a nice way to return the favor of her taking me with her and providing horses for the Tevis Ed Ride a couple years ago.

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Flying in over Lake Tahoe

I flew in to Sacramento early Friday morning, accompanied by ride-and-run buddy Cristina, who would be crewing for Lucy, riding Andrea’s Mustang mare Lilly (from my Virginia City adventure). I had just enough time to pick up the rental car (actually, a small Nissan Frontier truck that proved to be the perfect crew vehicle) before swinging back to the airport terminal to pick up Cathy’s husband Tim, the second half of Cathy’s crew duo.

From there, it was a (fairly) straight shot up I-80 to Robie Park, and two-and-a-half hourse later (with the last half hour being the road into Robie Park…every year, I forget how long it really take to get off the main road and all the way back in to camp), we were pulling up to Cathy’s rig.

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Cathy’s mare, OT Dymonite RSI

Cathy was already super-organized, with all of the crew gear packed and ready to go, so we spent some time going over where everything was and what needed to go where, then got Dymonite cleaned up and headed over to vet in.

 

This year, Tevis was doing a research study on dehydration/weight loss — the same type of study as I participated in at Virginia City — and I have to say, I much prefer the “walk the horse on the scale, get weight, move on” format of study than some of the prior years of pokey needles and blood draws. Much faster, and much less fuss from the majority of the horses.

Dy vetted in very well (very full of herself…super-attached to Stephanie’s gelding Ash, and wanted to know where he was at all times), then we headed back up to the trailer where we tacked Dy up so I could know how all of her gear went on, then I hopped on and headed out with Steph for a pre-ride to the start and down the first few miles of the trail.

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Practicing? One day, this photo will be for real, on my own horse. But for now, other people’s horses and crew-bonus pre-rides will suffice.

It was lovely to see the trail in the daylight. I loved it last year in the early dawn light, but it was just as pretty to see all the greenery and the spectacular mountain views along the way.

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The goal of the pre-ride was to do a slow-release of the pressure cooker…mostly walking, bit of trotting, and to try to bleed off some of the “I’ve been chowing down on extra mashes and have more energy than I know what to do with” sillies. Mission accomplished by the time we got back.

Cathy made a late lunch/early dinner, then I went wandering around camp for my social networking hour, touching base with as many of my friends who were there as I could find. It was a really good reminder of the “this is why I do this” social aspect of the sport — even a simple hug and 10 minutes of talking with someone makes me feel really good, and makes me remember that doing the introverted hermit routine for too long isn’t actually a great long-term approach to life.

When it comes to ride briefing, I have to say, I appreciate how much information they can impart in a relatively short period of time. Helps that so much of the information is published ahead of time, and the briefing really just reiterates the critical parts, or last-minute things that may have changed.

Because we had everything packed up and ready to go, including all crew bags (Cathy’s and Steph’s — part of her crew were carpooling up to Robinson Flat with me and helping schlep all the stuff) packed into the back of the truck, it was actually really easy to grab an early bedtime, which has been pretty much unheard of for me in the past. Of course, that doesn’t mean I actually slept…but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Dark and early Saturday morning rolled around all too soon, and it was a quick enough process to roll out of bed, out of the trailer, and fetch Dymonite and start tacking her up and Cathy got herself ready. Once Cathy was on the horse and heading to the start, we did the crew “stand around and wait” for the magic hour of 5:30, when engines can be started and vehicles are clear to leave Robie Park.

It’s actually been a number of years (2014, I think?) since I last did the trailer convoy out of Robie, and I had forgotten about the spectacular levels of dust that happen on that drive. Forget seeing the actual road…I pretty much just followed the taillights of the trailer in front of me, because I figured if a big rig could make it though, the little truck would be fine. And it was.

Once free of the twisty-turny dust cloud and out onto the main road, that little truck just flew down I-80, back towards Auburn. I really, really enjoy this drive — it’s super scenic, and it’s just a fun road to drive, both 80, and the drive into Foresthill and beyond into Robinson Flat.

I just barely made it into the last batch of vehicles allowed to drive up to RF (they close it when the first horses start coming in, and while the published “close time” is usually 9 or 9:30, a lot of it depends on exactly how fast the frontrunners are going. It was a cooler weather day, so the times were faster. I think I got to the Sailor Flat parking point about 8:40, and they only allowed like 3 other cars in behind me. Nice thing about that was being able to drive right up into the check, dump Steph’s crew and all our stuff, and then drive partway down (ended up being about 3/4 of a mile away, so I was definitely getting my exercise over the whole weekend) and park the truck before walking back up to the check.

I had managed to find a good spot up near the out-timer, although there ended up being quite a few little sticky weed things — not pokey-jabby type, but persistent in sticking to fabric. Slightly annoying, and possibly why that area was still relatively unoccupied. Ah well, live and learn. That was my first time that high up at RF — I’ve usually been able to snag spots closer down towards the vet check.

I got everything set up for Cathy and Dymonite, then made my way out to Soda Springs Rd with the crew cart to wait for Tim (who had driven the trailer, parked it at Foresthill, then grabbed a ride up with the other part of Steph’s crew) and watch riders come in.

This is the spectator part of Tevis that I really enjoy — seeing riders come in, following the webcast, being in the know of what’s happening. When you’re riding, you kind of miss a lot of what’s happening with the rest of the ride.

We were expecting Cathy a little after 11, based on the time she left Red Star, and she rolled in right on time. I was a little concerned at first of how well a two-person crew might work or not (used to having at least three of us) but it went really smoothly. I pulled the saddle and dumped it into the cart, then Tim took schlepping duties while I followed Cathy and Dymonite down the road, holding the mash pan for the hungry-hippo mare. Five gold stars to Dymonite for being the best multi-tasking hoover I’ve ever crewed for — she could consistently slurp mash while walking, and not faceplant. Very effecient, and by the time we were to the vet, she had consumed most of a pan of mash.

Cathy had me do her trot-out, and we got a “very nice” comment from the vet. (Thank you, years of halter and showmanship classes.) All A’s across the board, and she still couldn’t get enough of her mash, hoovering her way through her mash pan even as we walked back to our crew spot.

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This inadvertently made the best crew shirt ever. Limited edition shirt from Flik Equestrian.

The rest of the hour-long hold time went really smoothly, and I had Cathy waiting at the out-timer two minutes before her out-time.

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And away they go! 36 miles down, 64 to go…

With Cathy on her way, we wrapped up the crew spot and headed back down to the truck, then zoomed back down the road to Foresthill. From here, we had several hours of downtime and waiting. I got everything set up and ready for the Foresthill check, then hung out on Bath Rd for a bit to watch the front-runners come in before then heading back out to meet Cathy at the Chicken Hawk vet check.

Although it’s only 4 miles out from Foresthill, Ch can be a good place to station a crew-person…horses and riders both come into this check looking a bit tattered around the edges, and having that extra hand to take the horse, cool them off, and trot them out can be a big mental boost to the rider. I know it was definitely worth it for me to make the trek in and out — you can’t park at the check, you have to park out on the road and hike in about a mile, give or take. (It’s probably a bit less than a mile, based on my time out of there — I made it back to the truck in 8 minutes, with a combo of running and walking, and I’m no 8-minute-miler.) And then it’s a close enough drive back to FH that unless you have a rider who decides to absolutely fly through Volcano Canyon, you can still make it back to FH in time to be on Bath Rd, waiting for your rider.

There was a bit of confusion and flurry of activity as Cathy came in to Foresthill — a couple volunteers had been mistakenly telling people the cutoff time was 8pm, rather than the actual 8:45, so it ended up creating a stampede of riders rushing in, all at the same time, and having times that were super-clustered together…which later had repercussions further down the trail as far as congestion, trail sharing, and quantities of dust.

Dymonite was already pulsed down by the time we got to the pulse-takers, so we were able to pulse right in and hustle over to the vet line. It took a couple of minutes to wait for the vets, but Dy was hoovering another mash, so it was time well spent for her to eat. I did her trot-out again, and she got another “looks good” comment.

Because I had taken some time earlier in the afternoon to get everything ready to go, it was fairly short work to get Cathy’s saddle refilled with waters/snacks while Dymonite kept on stuffing in the food.

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Waiting at the Foresthill out-timer

Once again, I had her at the out-timer a few minutes early, and we waved Cathy off into the night before hustling back to the trailer, cleaning everything up, and booking it back down to the Fairgrounds.

Since Cathy had a stall, we didn’t have to deal too much with parking troubles, although the stall assignments ended up being a bit upside-down and super confusing. At the end of the day, we had a stall for the horse, but there was definitely some extra dramatics involved. Ah, well, got to have one thing at Tevis that makes you a bit crazy, right?

Crew truck again came in super-handy to load up everything for the stall, drive over to the stalls from the parking lot, get the stall set up, and then drive back to the trailer. I had a pretty good idea of the kind of timing schedule Cathy was following, and we expected her back no earlier than 4…which meant there was actually several hours of downtime to be able to sleep…novel concept! Normally I get caught up in watching people come in to the stadium, but this year, the draw of sleep won out, and I was able to snag several hours in there before waking up to check the webcast, realize I still had some time, grab a bit more sleep, and then finally get up, grab the cart, drop it at the stadium, then head over to the actual timed finish line.

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Finished!

Nail biting minute by nail biting minute I waited, watching as other friends and people I knew crossed the line…then finally, the distinctive red and yellow glowbar pattern I had attached to Dymonite’s breastcollar appeared from out of the trees, and they crossed the finish line at 5:02am, the last pair across the line.

Dy was still super-strong, and hustled her way down to the stadium, then looked downright perky on her victory lap, bouncing into a cheerful trot and charging under the finish banner. I quickly yanked her saddle off, then we hustled over to the vet area for the final vetting. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait at all, and Dy needed to extra encouragement from me on her final trot-out. Vet Mike Peralez (who I know from way back in my NATRC days), did their final vetting, and it’s always the highest compliment to get a “very nice job” comment from him on the trot-out. She passed with flying colors, and several positive comments, and then they were done! Tim bundled Cathy off to the trailer to bed (she was very sore after coming off Dy on Cal Loop after a loose horse knocked into them and knocked Cathy off Dy, and she was definitely feeling the effects of that, so I insisted she go lay down while I finished taking care of Dy), and I took Dy back up to the barn so she could start in on another mash while I wrapped her legs before taking her back down to the stadium for the post-completion wellness check, done 1-2 hours after finishing.

Once she was all checked out, and settled into her stall with plenty of fluffy shavings, I meandered my way back to the trailer, stopping to catch up with some friends along the way. Back at the trailer, I caught Cathy (who still hadn’t gone to sleep) up on the ride happenings, then crashed for another couple of hours until the sun was up enough to start warming it up a bit in the trailer.

I didn’t end up watching Haggin Cup presentations…got up fairly close to the time it started, and the need for a shower won out over everything else. The rest of the afternoon was taken up with socializing, as I wandered over to the awards banquet area, got caught up with several friends, then enjoyed the offerings of the awards meal spread, a bit more socializing, checking on Dymonite, and then finally wrapping up and heading to the airport. I typically don’t sleep well on planes, but I was out pretty much as soon as my butt hit the plane seat, and didn’t wake up until we started the final descent into Phoenix.

So, a short, very full Tevis weekend this year, but very fulfilling, and always thrilling to have my rider finish. This was my “Decade Crew” year, and I couldn’t be more tickled for how well Cathy and Dymonite did…and it was Dy’s first 100. Great rider, great horse. Always really good to see my endurance tribe, to celebrate with those who finished, and commiserate with those who didn’t. Tevis is a ride like none other, whether you’re riding it or crewing it. It gets under your skin and in your blood, and I don’t ever regret being a part of it.

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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What We’re Wearing: Mimi, Jan 2019

I have to say, I really enjoy the gear acquisition and testing element of this sport. It’s become a long-standing joke around the house that I’m basically a revolving door of tack sales — find a good deal, buy it, sell something else that’s been sitting around.

I’m also constantly evaluating if what I’m using is still working. With Mimi, I’ve ended up changing saddles several times over the years as she has changed shape. I’ve also changed tack sets and played around with various colors — but this is nothing new, as the original barn color I picked when I got her and for our first couple of years was hunter green, before gradually migrating over to the current purple that it’s overall been for the past 20 years. And I change out bits all. the. time.

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The current gear line-up

As of January 2019, here’s what we’re currently using:

  • Frank Baines Reflex dressage saddle
    Ironically, this was the saddle I kept arguing with myself over why it shouldn’t work — it’s a proper dressage saddle, not an endurance saddle; it’s a 17″ seat, there’s no way that should work. But it’s wide enough to fit a 55-gallon drum, and it actually puts me in the best position of any of the saddles I own, and one of the better ones that I’ve ridden in, period.
  • JMS sheepskin cover
    Originally got to go my Duett, but it actually fits the FB really well, too. It’s almost 12 years old now, and parts of it are looking a little worse for the wear (such as the fact it doesn’t entirely cover the bottom of the saddle flaps), but the sheepskin is still pretty fluffy.
  • Stillwater mohair dressage girth
    Another piece that goes back to when I first got the Duett, and it’s still barely showing wear. I really like the sturdy neoprene-and-leather combo on the buckle backing. Never had any rubs or soreness with this girth.
  • Archer Equine saddle pad
    A score at last year’s AERC Convention, I am in love with this pad for when I want something that is plain wool with no inserts. It’s durable, washes up beautifully without clumping, and fits a bunch of different saddles. The company is based out of Australia, but they have at least one dealer here in the States that I know of.
  • Taylored Tack Zuni Halter-Bridle
    I love my TT stuff. I always wanted to get Mimi a set back when we were competing…but better late than never, especially since I was able to get a bunch of it piecemeal, here and there on used tack sales.
  • some kind of Myler bit (this is case, the MB41PB kimberwick)
    Even at coming-26-years-old, a snaffle is still not going to happen out on trail. We can school in a snaffle in the arena all day long, but as soon as we hit the trail, I need something stronger. Currently on rotation is a couple of different kimberwicks, a pelham, or a Myler combo.
  • Taylored Tack Best Beta Comfy Reins
    The current go-to. I change out my reins on a super-frequent basis, and probably have more sets of reins than any other piece of tack. Except maybe bits.
  • Taylored Tack Kickapoo Breastcollar
  • Taylored Tack S-Hackamore Set
    We alternate between this and the bit. The headstall is the TT Simple Hackamore Headstall that I added a snap-on browband to…because pretty. thumbnail_img_6033

Another angle

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Close-up of the head gear. I love the Zuni browband style…adds some interest and a touch of “different” to the look.