Ride Story: Man Against Horse 50, Oct 2022

The race that began as a bar bet back in 1983 was back for its 38th running this year…the iconic, infamous Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, AZ. Also, incidentally, my “anniversary ride” — the first AERC ride I did, back in 2005. I couldn’t have picked a wilder and woolier ride to kick off my introduction to endurance riding (well, actually, I kind of did…I crewed Tevis twice, in 04 and 05, before I ever even rode an AERC ride), but in spite of that (or maybe because of it?) I fell in love with the sport, and this ride has always held a soft spot in my heart.

Mimi and I tackling the 25miler in 2005

The 50-miler especially is known for its level of difficulty. It is rocky. There’s over 7000′ of climbing (including a climb up Mingus Mountain, in which the most intense part involves a 2000′ elevation gain in only a couple of miles). Did I mention the rocks? The weather can be unpredictable. Oh, yeah, and the rocks. It’s probably one of the most challenging 50-milers in this state. I’ve gone head-to-head with this trail a total of 9 times now…4 times in the 25, and 5 times in the 50. I’ve finished the 25 every time, but the 50 has eaten my lunch a couple of times, leaving me with a healthy respect for the course, and no smug assurances of a guaranteed finish, especially since I’ve been pulled at the finish one year.

Liberty and I did the 25-miler last year, as well as a training ride last summer that introduced her to some of the “upper Mingus ” area (albeit not the intense climb up the 106 trail that the ride course uses), so she was familiar with all but maybe a dozen miles of the course. This was also probably the best summer I’ve ever had as far as regularly conditioning, and going into the fall season feeling like I had a well-conditioned horse. We’d also finished the White Mountain Tango 50 three weeks prior, although the fact she was a little bit off on her left hind afterwards had me seriously nervous going into this ride. The conservative side of me was ready to pull the plug and play it safe…but ultimately, the “take a chance, see what happens” side won out.

So, back to the race itself…it’s super-unique, one of only a handful of races in the world in which horses and runners compete side-by-side for who can get across the line first. It is so much fun to share the trail with the runners, and the aid stations along the way are an added bonus, since they’re more than happy to share the goodies with the riders as well. I thought riding this course was tough enough…I cannot imagine running it. My takeaway from my brief stint into ultrarunning was that I’m a way better rider than I am runner, so I’m going to stick with my strengths and let four hooves carry me down the trail…but mad props to those runners who toe the start line of this race.

With the abundance of rain up in the mountains this summer, I had been warned ahead of time that the rocks were even more prolific than usual. With that in mind, I decided to glue padded Renegade shells on Liberty all around for some extra protection and concussion against the rocks. It was also calling for rain on ride weekend, and if there’s any spot that is going to tax the boots to the limit, it’s climbing up Mingus, especially if it’s wet/muddy…and that is a bad spot to lose a boot. So as much as I try to avoid gluing, I figured this was one time it was justified.

Liberty got her boots glued on Wednesday…messy-looking, but overall a pretty smooth gluing job. Truck/trailer got all packed up, and I rolled out from the barn Friday morning, following the tail-end of morning traffic through Phoenix, and made it up to camp by 10am. Camp is at Fain Ranch in Prescott Valley, smack in the middle of a wide-open cow pasture. The aforementioned rain meant that the vegetation and grass growth was also quite prolific up there, but management had done a great job of going in and bushwhacking out a really nice parking area for all the rigs. It was a slightly different spot than where we’ve previously parked, but it actually ended up being an even nicer option.

I’m really liking getting into camp early…allows for a very relaxed time getting settled in and set up, without any rushing or scrambling around. Cristina stopped by with her littles, since she lives not far from camp, and we got to spend some time visiting and catching up.

Vetting wasn’t until 3, so after camp got all set up, several of us saddled up and headed out for a nice pre-ride leg stretch. Libby was great on the way out, but turned into a bit of a fire-breathing dragon on the way back. Jigging, snorting, fussing with her bit, and being quite sassy and animated.

I’ve been going round and round with her on trying to find a bit/headgear that she deems “acceptable.” I thought Mimi was fussy about bits…turns out this one leveled that up by a factor of about 10, and she’s challenging every notion I’ve had about bits, and clearly didn’t “read the manual” about what “should” work for her. (Yes, teeth are fine…she is regularly seen by a veterinarian who specializes in equine dentistry. This is her being opinionated and having very strong feelings about softening and the idea of yielding to pressure.)

I have an entire bridle rack that is full of bits now, thanks to her, and I refuse to think about how much $ I have spent on bits over the last 2 years (hey, everyone needs a hobby, right?), and although I have sold off a few here and there, most of them I am reluctant to part with…and I learned well at a young age from my show trainer the concept of having a “bit box” full of bits, because you never know when some dusty, esoteric bit that’s been gathering dust for a decade is going to be The Bit for a particular horse.

One thing I’ve learned with Liberty, though, is she is not a fan of “too much” bit or multiple pressures. Curb pressure and leverage do not make her very happy, whether it’s in the form of a bit with some leverage, or an s-hackamore. It’ll back her off, all right…right back behind the vertical, and she gets all bunched up and off contact. With other bits, she’ll snatch down and forward in response to contact. I’ve been using a running martingale on her, off and on, to counter some of the snatching…but it’s not something I really like to use if I can avoid it.

So I went into the weekend with 3 headgear choices to try…one of which was brand new, one was a new variation of a bit that had been “the most acceptable” so far, and one I had tried….once…on an easy walking ride. First up was a Neue Schule universal ring with the “turtle top” mouthpiece. I’ve used the turtle top before, but she was a little strong in it, so the thought was adding the universal ring cheekpieces would give a little more leverage. Well, testing that one out on the pre-ride was a flat-out “nope.” Great going out, but as soon as she got a little amped up coming home, she was all sorts of fussy and unhappy about it. Okay, that was option one down. Option two was a titanium Bombers bit with a loose ring cheek and one of their elliptical mouthpieces. I’d been running a full cheek sweet iron version of this bit on her with probably the highest degree of success…but she prefers titanium to sweet iron, and the way she likes to rub her face on things (even though she’s not allowed to…), it was only a matter of time before she snagged that full cheek on something. Option three was a padded sidepull noseband that attaches on to an existing headstall. I’d tested that once, on a solo walking ride, and she was a gem…but I didn’t know if I trusted that I would have brakes at a ride start in something so light, especially given that we’d had a bit of a dust-up on a training ride the previous weekend after I had to switch from the s-hack that she was having a fit over to a plain halter…and my brakes were questionable at best in that when we were in a group. I figured I could probably switch to the sidepull after the second vet check…35 miles and a climb of Mingus would probably take the wind out of her sails somewhat. But that left me wondering what to do for the start, which can be very high-energy and exciting, since it’s a shotgun start with the horses and runners all taking off together.

Ultimately, I decided to run with the Bombers loose ring…and no running martingale. One of the premises that Bombers works off of is that “pressure = resistance, and resistance = lack of control.” It’s totally counter-intuitive for someone who has always learned “bit up for control,” but learning more of the psychology of horses, and how they are wired to think, this totally makes sense to me. The question was, did I trust the concept, and my horse, and myself, enough to put it in practice? I guess we’d find out…

The clouds started rolling in over the top of Mingus as we were coming back from our pre-ride, and things were looking quite ominous by the time we headed over to vet. Liberty vetted in well (although the pulse of 44 revealed she was a bit “up”), we got our ride number put on, and we were ready to start the following morning. Right after we got back to the trailer, it briefly started sprinkling for a few minutes, but the clouds passed quickly, and we never got more than a few drops of rain.

Friday afternoon clouds

Friday evening, AZERC (Arizona Endurance Riders Club) hosted a potluck dinner, with great turnout and attendance. People bring really yummy food, and it’s a great way to gather and socialize ahead of the ride. It’s been so heartening to see the overall response the club has gotten…the enthusiasm, being able to bring in new people to the sport, great turnout for learning events, and it’s been really good to have some of our long-time endurance riders sign up and support the club. But the club is probably a topic that deserves its own blog post and attention, so that will be for another day.

Ride meeting was at 7, and went over all the relevant info for the following day. 6:30am ride start for the 50, 30 min hold at vet check 1 (17 miles), 45 min hold at vet check 2 (34 miles), and a gate-and-go at vet check 3 (42 miles).

A final top-off of Liberty’s water and hay for the night, and then I headed straight for bed, since 4:30am would be rolling around plenty early the next morning. I actually slept really well for me the night before a ride…I am typically very restless, and have a hard time getting a good night’s rest. But I slept well this time, even with the bright full moon lighting up the night.

Pre-start group photo.
L-R: Lucian, Susie, me, Kim

The alarm went off at 4:30, and I rolled out of bed, threw Liberty some breakfast, got the coffee started, and cleaned up Liberty’s overnight leavings (most of which she had thoughtfully piled up in a heap…very tidy). It had gotten chilly overnight — clear, and a little breezy — so I was starting the day off with layers. Liberty was a gem for getting ready…stood quietly, munching on her hay while I tacked her up, and even when “her boys” moved out of our immediate camp area, she shuffled around a few times but didn’t throw a fit, and stood super-polite for me to climb on. I was on her back shortly after 6, giving us almost half an hour to calmly walk around and warm up. Again, she was being so good…very calm, loose rein, and even when the whole starting area energy started picking up, the biggest expression of energy she displayed was to turn her forward walk into a few lateral half passes. Dressage pony in the making.

Right at 6:30, the pack was released, and the runners and horses poured out of camp. Immediately out of the starting area, there’s a rocky wash that has to be crossed, and the rain had made it even rockier than usual. Super proud of how she sensibly picked her way through the rocks, and only after we were clear of the wash did she move up into a solid working trot. Having done the 25 here last year, Liberty knew the game of “chase the runners” and she deftly started making her way past them, giving a decisive snort at each one she passed.

We had our own space bubble from the other horses almost immediately, and she was in total business-like mode right from the get-go. Not pulling on me, no head-tossing or fighting, not rushing, but settled into her best working trot, and focused on moving down the trail. We passed riders, had others pass us, and the whole time, she was just focused on me. And we were amazingly in sync. Like, I would just think something like “the right side of the track looks a little smoother” and she would shift over. Or even the thought of “a canter might be nice right about now” and she would roll up into her beautiful canter.

At the start, making our way past runners
A few miles in, on the top of the earthen dam for the stock pond

The first 12 miles or so are easy cruising on ranch roads through rolling plains, so a perfect place to set a smart pace and make some time on good footing. Perfect trotting and cantering area, and that’s just what we did. All the way up to the checkpoint at what I call the “windmill water stop,” since there’s a water trough with a windmill. Super original. ;) Libby drank a little bit there, I hopped off to go duck behind a bush and recycle the morning coffee, and she was a good girl with other horses leaving. Leaving out from that checkpoint, we still had our perfect space bubble. This next section is one I love. Colloquially known as “the grapevine,” it’s a single-track trail that steadily winds up through the base of a canyon for several miles before turning out of the canyon and climbing up to the first vet check. Liberty does great on single-track trail…she is agile and savvy, and can really make time on this kind of terrain. So I sat back and let her do her thing. She sensibly slowed herself down for any rocks, or downhill dips in and out of the streambed, but in-between, she happily zipped along, mostly trotting but occasionally even breaking into a canter. There were times when my brain had some moments of, “What are you doing, cantering along a singletrack trail above a creekbed?” but Liberty was totally focused, surefooted, balanced, not pulling on me, and rather than being worried or nervous, I felt totally safe and exhilarated. That mare danced her way along that creek bed, and then cheerfully tackled the climb up to the vet check.

I hopped off right outside the vet check, and by the time we walked in and she drank, she was pulsed down. I got her vetted through right away, then grabbed my crew bag and found a spot to set up and let her dig in. In short order, she had polished off her mash, and was starting in on a pile of alfalfa that had been left. While she ate, I refilled water bottles, gulped down a can of DoubleShot espresso, and decided that it was still early enough that nothing in my cooler actually looked good and that I wasn’t that hungry yet. I’d been sipping on this Sport Superfuel from Skratch Labs the whole way up to the check, and it was doing a really good job of keeping me feeling fueled and hydrated. So I tossed a couple more chia gels into my saddle bags for later, found a ride volunteer to hold Libby for a couple minutes while I ran to the porta-potty, and then just like that, it was only a few minutes to our out-time, so I wrapped everything up, and since she was being so good, swapped her over to her sidepull now.

We left out of the check right on time, with Libby cheerfully trotting out down the road. The course for the 25 and 50 is the same up to this point, but after the first check, the 25 loops back to camp, while the 50 trail splits off and continues up and further into the mountains. So I’m sure Miss Never Forget A Trail thought we were on the 25, and about to loop back to camp. Surprise was on her when we got to the junction where the 50-mile trail splits off, and we turned up that rather than continue down the road towards camp. However, rather than sulking and questioning my judgment, she took one look at the new trail and went charging off, doing her funny little snorts of satisfaction the whole time. (Can I bottle this enthusiasm? Seriously, I feel like I need an infusion of it sometimes.)

The trail was a rocky single-track that wound through the trees, up and down, and eventually around to one of the forest service roads. From there, was passed through a couple more checkpoints, and around to another service road, one that makes its way around Mingus Mountain. I don’t think this road is anyone’s favorite section, at least not the first part of it. About 9 miles long in total, the first half is very rocky and slow-going. In fact, we walked pretty much all of the rocky portion…which was fine, because Liberty has a nice walk on her, so it didn’t really slow us down too much, and my main objective for the day was to take it easy on the rocks and just get a finish.

This was my first time tackling this 50 all by myself — I’ve always ridden this 50 with at least one other person, which tends to make the miles go by a little faster, especially when they are “slog it out, slow-going” types of miles. The road in particular feels like it takes forever, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel being out there all by myself, just me and my mare.

Funny thing, as it turned out…I felt like this was the easiest journey along that road I’ve done. For whatever reason, it went by really fast, and I was shocked to reach certain milestone parts of the road when we did. Mentally, it was really smooth-sailing, and I found myself focusing more on being in the moment and savoring the quiet time and bond with Liberty. As someone who spends a lot of time talking to people during the week, due to the customer service nature of my job, and in general being very interactive, the solitude of just me and Liberty sharing the trail together seemed particularly special and meaningful. Occasionally I would quietly murmur something to her but for the most part, I was taking in the scenery, snapping some photos here and there, and reveling in being out on the trail on a beautiful day with my bestest big mare.

The latter half of the road smooths out and from there, it’s much easier to pick up the pace…and after walking for the last few miles, Libby was more than happy to pick up the pace. No encouragement from me, as soon as it was clear, she would trot out, then self-adjust down whenever we’d reach a rocky patch…or some of the rather large puddles of water that would take up the entire trail. She also figured out how to “siphon” water on the go from the puddles…she’d splash in, put her mouth to the puddle, and start walking, slurping as she went. Talk about efficient. I was so, so thrilled with her at this point…the trail was going further and further away from camp, and she was still so game and cheerful to keep seeing “what was around the next corner.”

There’s a spectacular viewpoint that looks out over the Verde Valley and to the red rocks of Sedona, and it marks the start of the climb up Mingus. There’s a checkpoint and water stop there (shoutout to Checkpoint 6, and the amazing pre-peeled and chilled tangerines they served!), and it’s a good place to stop for a few minutes before starting the climb. Liberty didn’t want to stop much longer than the time it took to drink, give her electrolytes, and convince her to grab a few bites of grass while I polished off a couple of tangerines, so at the mare’s insistence, we were off after only a couple of minutes. Bless her enthusiasm…but she had no idea what was coming…

starting the climb up Mingus…we would eventually get up to that top plateau level

The trail peels off the road and quickly turns into a narrow singletrack that starts making its way up the side of the mountain. It’s beautiful — there’s tree cover and dappled shade, and the first part of the trail is a steady but gradual climb…right up until it’s not. Things get really intense really fast, with some technical maneuvering and boulder hopping. This part of the trail always intimidates me, ever since the first time I took Mimi through and we had a bit of a wipe-out. This year, the trail had gotten more worn and washed out, so the jump up through the boulders was even higher, and even more technical…not much room to maneuver, or to get good momentum up through, and definitely not time to sit and contemplate “the best route through” without losing what little momentum you had. I was so proud of how Libby powered through that section. I could feel her uncertainty in a couple of moments, but she bravely picked a path through and cleared that particular obstacle. From there, there’s another couple of short and but steep climbs, and then the trail levels off for a while. There was a lot of grass growing here, so we would pause and let Libby grab a bite every couple minutes, then keep on continuing on, since she has perfected the art of “walk and eat.”

After a nice break of fairly easy trail (no intense climbing, but some rock maneuvering and technical stuff that makes me glad I have a really good trail horse), the second round of climbing starts, with some more rock hopping, and a section that looks like a set of rock “steps” to be navigated. Half a dozen intense switchbacks, and then you finally reach the top of Mingus Mountain. I was sooooo impressed with Liberty on this climb. She only stopped to puff a couple of times, very briefly, and I never once had to ask her for anything. I let her dictate her pace, when she needed to stop, and when she was ready to go again…and she was always ready and willing to go. She pretty much grazed her way up that climb, and was ready to keep going even when we reached the top.

The trail spits out into a parking lot, and from there, it’s about a mile and half of forest road into the second vet check, and she cheerfully picked up a trot and trotted most of the way into the check. Walked the last bit of more rocky footing, and as soon as she got into the check, she dove into the trough and snorkeled for several minutes. The pulse-takers kept trying to check her pulse…she hung at 68 for a couple minutes while she was chugging water, and then as soon as she came up for air, she was pulsed down immediately. She was also the textbook definition of Hangry Mare…she was starving, and just wanted food…NOW. There were a couple people already vetting, so rather than try to convince The Hangry One to stand quietly, I grabbed my crew bag and let her dive into food.

The clouds had started rolling in as we climbed Mingus, and at the top, it was overcast and breezy, and getting chillier, enough to justify pulling out the fleece cooler. After a few minutes of her eating, the vet line had cleared, so I was able to convince her to leave her mash pan long enough go over and get vetted through. She was still really perky and vetted through great, and couldn’t wait to get back to her food. She plowed through all the mash I had brought for her, chomped down on the entire flake of alfalfa I brought, and then went to work on finishing off our neighbor’s leavings. Never seen her quite so starving, except maybe at the finish of White Mountain Tango. Something about these mountain rides must bring out her appetite.

She wasn’t the only one. I polished off a packet of tuna salad, cup of chicken salad, a pickle juice shot, and a can of cactus water. The 45-minute hold went by pretty quick, and before I knew it, it was time to wrap everything up and get ready to head out again. From here, we would be traveling on some trails that Liberty “sort of” knew from our training ride last summer — only the ride course travel them in reverse of how we had ridden them. So it would be interesting to see if she recognized them and made any correlation.

Based on how she hustled out of the check…I think she did. There were a couple of gates to dismount for, and most of the trail for several miles out of the check was walk-only due to the rocks, but again, she put that good walk to use and managed to cover some ground without trying very hard. The trail out of the check is mostly single track that winds its way down (what goes up must go down, and now we were on the “down” part), and eventually spits you back out at one of the aid stations along the forest road (the same road that goes along Mingus, but before the really rocky part). We took a couple minutes at the aid station — Liberty drank really well at the water trough there, and I munched down on a little bean burrito roll-up thing…a carryover from my trail running days, where I discovered the best trail snacks were bean roll-ups, pickles, and potatoes.

Then we had several more miles of road to cover, heading in the opposite direction of how we’d come through earlier. About partway through, Liberty’s motivation flagged a bit. She would trot small sections, but mostly wanted to walk, and grab grass alongside the road. So that’s what we did. She was being such a good girl, and we had plenty of time, and my goal was to ride her ride. I trust this horse to know her limits…she is self-preserving, so if she wants to go, she’s capable of going…and if she wants to walk, she’s ready for a break. I also think this was a bit of a mental wall, because we were going away from the direction of camp…and the road was doing some climbing again. (Gradual, but still. Climbing again after we just did all this downhill? For what???)

And then we reached a checkpoint where the course moved off the road onto single-track, heading in the “campward” direction…and she was miraculously cured. This particular section of single-track we had ridden both out and back on our training ride, so she was familiar with it…and oh boy, did she fly. The first part was rocky, and she was careful and sensible through there, but as soon as it smoothed out, she was ready to rock and roll. It also started drizzling on us, and she wasn’t amused by raindrops on her ears.

Leaving the last check…

At one point, the trail leveled out and was nice and smooth, and she stretched out into a spectacular canter…thundering through the woods, rain drizzling all around, feeling that absolute connectedness with her. Hard to even put into words that experience. Towards the end of that single-track section, we chased down and passed a couple runners…and of course they passed us again when we stopped for the gate-and-go vet check 3.

This check was just a pulse down/trot-by…as soon as they reached pulse criteria, we could go. With just one vet there, and two people that came into the checkpoint just in front of me, it took a couple of minutes to get through, but once she was down and had a good drink, we were on our way again, with only 7 miles to go until the finish…and it was all downhill from here. literally. The trail out from the vet check descends through a series of switchbacks along the side of the mountain, eventually ending up at a road at the base of the mountain. We were also back on the same trail that the 25-mile course follows, so Liberty knew we were heading home for sure. She was so eager, but she did an amazing job of navigating that trail. I know that she knew I was not harboring any warm, fuzzy, positive thoughts towards cliffy canyon trails, and she took such care through this section. She was forward, but so balanced and so careful, slowing down every time there was a rock, surefootedly navigating around every switchback, and quickly but safely getting down to the bottom of that mountain.

Once at the bottom, she power-trotted along the road, paused briefly at the trough set out at the end of the road, and then we hit the powerline road that would take us back to camp. She alternately trotted and cantered the road, then zipped through the final checkpoint and picked up the single-track cow path that would take us right into the finish. There’s one tiny little wash to cross right before the finish line, and she trotted through that and then voluntarily broke into a canter, easily cantering the rest of the way to the finish.

As we crossed the line, the timer announced that we were in 10th! I had no clue…I thought we were further back than that. Ever since the first time I attended this ride, it’s been one of my goals to someday Top Ten the 50…and we had done it!

I still wasn’t ready to breathe easy, given that I’ve been pulled at the finish of this ride before…once she was pulsed down, I took her right over to the vet…and she passed! Officially completed, in the Top Ten! A whole bunch of our regular riding buddies were there at the finish, having either ridden the 25 earlier in the day…or ridden the 50 faster and already finished ;)…but we were surrounded and mobbed by a whole happy group. I know I was in tears, from sheer happiness…which had been happening throughout the day every time this mare did something amazing.

Not only was I so, so proud of Liberty for finishing this ride…it was the best ride that I’ve ever had in my entire endurance career. I have never had such a consistently good day and good time, and been so connected and in tune with a horse. I don’t think I could have ridden her any better than I had that day…I felt balanced, confident, and secure. Even when she tossed in some obligatory shies over the horse-eating culvert pipes along the mountain road (which I’m used to, because Mimi always did the same thing), all it did was generate giggles. Everything went so right, all day long. All day long, I kept thinking, “I could get pulled at the next check, and that would be okay, because we’ve had such an amazing time so far.” (Until we got to the last check, and then the finish, and it turned into, “oh, please, please, please don’t let us get pulled at the finish.”)

I was so impressed with Liberty’s professionalism and calm demeanor all day long. From starting the ride in the lightest bit I’ve ever put on her, to being able to go in a sidepull from mile 16 onward, she was polite, responsive, and totally in tune all day. A light squeeze on the reins, and she would slow her pace. All I had to do was think “this is a good place to pick up the pace” and she would be off and going. She finished looking bright-eyed, with tons of gas still in the tank, and easily could have gone out for more miles. She dragged me back to the trailer from the finish line, marching along with all sorts of intent and purpose. Her appetite was amazing, and she stood by the trailer tossing her head and pawing the air to demand more food, both after the finish and again the next morning.

Bright eyes. Did you just do 50 miles, mare?

After finishing (one of these days I’ll actually stand for Best Condition, but when the top finishers are a couple hours in front of me, I don’t think I can eat enough cheeseburgers for the weight points to cancel out the time difference points), I got her bundled up in a fleece cooler and blanket, as the sun was starting to head towards the horizon and the temperatures were dropping, got her legs wrapped, tucked her in to a pile of hay, and then headed off to ride dinner.

The dinner was a delicious catered Italian offering, including the most amazing tiramisu I think I’ve ever tasted. The ride had a fantastic completion rate of 100% for all distances — absolutely no pulls whatsoever, which is a great reflection on how smart people rode and how good of care they took of their horses. There were I think a dozen or so in the 13-mile fun ride, 30-something (35 or so?) in the 25, and 16 in the 50. And of course the 50-milers get buckles for finishing. This year’s awards also started something new: The Steel Cup, awarded to the Best Conditioned Horse in the 50-miler, in honor of Susie Kramer’s amazing Steel, who won Best Condition the last three years in a row at this ride.

After dinner, a small handful of us who were staying the night gathered around a firepit and rehashed the ride before eventually calling it a day and crawling off to bed. I was out of it until about 3am, when Libby woke me up bashing her mostly-empty hay bag against the trailer, so I got up, refilled her hay, and then went back to bed until my alarm went off around 6. Got camp wrapped up and was on the road back home by 8. Made good time and got through Phoenix very smoothly and was back at the barn by late morning. Libby got a quick shower, then I turned her out, where she went tearing off like a crazy thing, galloping all the way out to the pasture.

I couldn’t be happier with how the weekend went. Ride managers Ron and Stacy Barrett handle the horse side of things, with manager James Bonnett taking care of the running aspect, and together, they put on an amazing event. A huge thank you to all of them for undertaking this event every year. I love the old school feel of this ride…it’s challenging, you question your sanity at times, but when you finish, you know you and your horse have done something incredible. The radio checkpoint operators (Yavapai County Jeep Posse) are lovely to have along the trail…always cheerful and smiling and encouraging. The aid stations are so gracious in sharing their wares with us riders, and I love chatting with them along the way. Liberty’s glue-on Renegades got a lot of interest, as did our syringes of electrolytes. And thank you to all of the volunteers who came out to help put this ride on. Pulse takers, timers, vet scribes, rescue trailer (that was never needed, but always good to know there’s one available)…it takes an army of volunteers to put on a successful ride. To the veterinarians, thank you for your time that you give to this sport, and your care and attentiveness to our equine partners. Kirt and Gina Lander…my bosses at Renegade, and Liberty’s original breeders/owners…thank you for letting me “relieve” you of this mare. She’s everything you bred her to be, and she’s doing you proud out there.

With this weekend’s finish, Liberty earned her dance ticket to the next level…the Lead-Follow @ McDowell ride next month, which is offering a 30/50/75/100. The 50 there last year was her first 50 completion…so now it’s time to see if we can level up and tackle the next big challenge.

I have a buckle from each of my mares now.