Ride Story: Old Pueblo 50, March 2022

photo by AZ Cowgirl Photography

Ah, Old Pueblo. It’s a ride that’s considered a bit of an Arizona institution, having been around in some form since the 1990s. Despite that, it’s a ride I’ve been to only a handful of times, and a ride I’ve had questionable luck at. It was my very first attempt at a 50-miler, catch riding a friend’s horse, and my day ended with an inglorious Rider Option partway through after the constant torquing of an out-of-position stirrup fender left my ankle sprained and unable to bear any weight. So, yeah, that was fun…

I did a couple of really fun LDs with Mimi, in which my little spitfire pony actually Top Tenned (there are a ton of gates along the trail at this ride, and some of them can be gotten from horseback, if you have a gate-savvy horse…Mimi is the savviest of gate-savvy horses [literally, she will push the gate open if you unlatch it for her] and we were able to save so much time and [comparatively] fly through the courses), and then for the next number of years, consistently ran into schedule glitches and conflicts when it came to attending this ride.

2013 saw me doing my first back-to-back 50s (on Rocco and Frenchy), and then I didn’t make it down to OP again until last year, and the infamous Snowmaggedon day (aka, “Liberty’s first 50-mile attempt that involved 26 miles in a blizzard and a pull at 42 miles because apparently someone needs electrolytes even when it’s snowing”).

This year, I had redemption on my mind. When I get pulled at a ride, I have a hard time letting it rest until I go back and “get it right.” Fortunately, this year’s forecast wasn’t calling for any precipitation whatsoever, at least not on the day(s) I was planning to ride. I also had in the back of my mind to maybe try back-to-back 50s with Liberty, depending on how the first day went. Although, full disclosure: I’m personally not a huge fan of multi-days. I’d rather do a 75, or a 1-day 100, versus multi-days.

I do love the rolling grasslands of the Empire Ranch and the Sonoita area

I headed out Thursday, meeting up at a convenient truck stop partway down with both MJ and Susie, and caravaning the three rigs the rest of the way together. MJ and I planned to ride Liberty and Dreamer together on the first day, with Susie possibly joining us as well, so traveling down together made for subsequently easier parking together in camp. It was a super-smooth trip down, and even the rough road into basecamp (that cost me some vehicle front end work last year) had been graded out and repaired.

In camp, we set up a “circle the wagons” arrangement with the trailers, parking in a square with horses on the inside of the rigs, and a space saved for Lancette, as the tentative plan was for me to sponsor Hailey on day 2 if all went well for everyone on day 1.

I got camp set up quite fast (getting everything pretty well streamlined and developing a good system for packing and unpacking), took Sofie for a stroll around camp, then took advantage of being one of the fairly early arrivals in camp and hustled over to get checked in and quickly vetted Liberty through. Once MJ & Susie vetted in, we all tacked up and headed out for an easy leg-stretch pre-ride.

Didn’t get pictures of it, but we flushed out a couple of antelope during our pre-ride

The weather was downright pleasant for Sonoita — breezy, but nowhere near the gale-force gusts I’ve experienced, and almost a little warm when standing in the sun and out of any breeze, which meant that with the breeze, it was perfect riding weather. Spent the last bit of the afternoon getting stuff for the next day finished off — electrolytes mixed and packed in the saddle, and spare boots added to the saddle (I was running with glue-ons this time, both with the thought in mind of riding multiple days and not wanting to deal with boots, and to keep on working with a new glue we’re testing at work…but I have more faith in my strap boots than I do glue-ons, so plenty of spare strap boots were on hand).

For some reason, ride turnout wasn’t huge this year. It’s always been a popular ride, but attendance was definitely lower than in the past, and I’m not sure exactly what to attribute that to…although I’m sure the current gas prices aren’t helping anything.

Regardless of attendance numbers, it was a cheerful crowd gathered for ride briefing, with much appreciation for new ride manager Debi Sanger taking over the management of this long-time ride and ensuring that it keeps going. There were a few questions to get sorted out on the Ride With GPS app that so many of our AZ rides have started adopting as an accompaniment to traditional trailer marking. (I’ve mentioned it before, but think “car GPS, but for trails” in that it will talk to you, and make obnoxious noises at you if you go off-course. Awesome for areas where markers have been known to get removed or moved, as well as a “proof of life” GPS track for your route and where you were at on the trail.) We got our trail overview basics — 17-mile loop, back into camp for a trot-by, 7-mile loop, into camp for vet check and 45-minute hold, 12.5-mile loop, back to camp for another vet check and 45-minute hold, and then one last 12.5-mile loop.

Ride start was 7am, which meant a 5am wakeup for me. As usual, it was a fairly restless night for me, especially heightened by the full moon shining into the truck window like a beacon, so it felt like I got my sleep in fits and starts. It was a bit chillier than predicted when I got up in the morning, which had me scrambling for more layers before reluctantly crawling outside. Sofie, for her part, knows the routine…go out, quick walk around, go potty, then scuttle back to the truck and jump back in bed. As she smugly curled back up in her nest of fleece blankets (and part of my sleeping bag), I had a brief moment of wanting to join her…

But Libby was nickering for breakfast, and so ended that thought. She, too, has gotten our morning routine down and knows exactly what is up. All it took was using the inside of the trailer to mix feed for her one time, and now she thinks every time I duck inside and start making noise, it must mean there’s something for her. Even if it’s just making my coffee.

I’ve actually gotten away from feeding much by way of traditional “breakfast” before ride start — she gets her supplements and feed the evening before, and goes to bed with unlimited grass hay and a bit of alfalfa, and in the morning, I “refresh” her grass hay, and give her a few bites of alfalfa, so she thinks she’s gotten “something” but I’m not overloading her system with a heavy morning feed.

Quick coffee and breakfast for me, then get the mare tacked up, take Sofie out again, then get her settled in the trailer with water, kibble, and blankets, then time to mount up and start warming up. Libby was a little up, but being polite enough…unless we started walking away from the start area, then she started getting a bit opinionated. Fortunately, there was quite a bit of open space that made a good warm-up area, large enough to start schooling some trot circles and figure-eights and get her more focused on me, rather than the trail. It worked, because at the start, she moseyed out of camp on a loose rein. That’s much more like it.

We started a small field that morning — 9 riders in the 50 — and having to deal with 3 gates to open/close in rapid succession pretty much right out of camp kept most of us pretty bunched up together through all the gates. Once through the third gate, the next couple miles were dirt road, and the group naturally started to separate out, and MJ and I got our own space bubble pretty much in the middle of the pack.

As I mentioned earlier…one thing about this ride…there are a lot of gates. Something like 23 gates just on the first 17-mile loop. Some of them can be gotten from horseback, especially if you have a horse who knows what they are doing (Of course I’ve been *meaning* to work on Liberty’s gate-maneuvering abilities, since I discovered last year at this ride she has no clue about what I’m doing or asking for when it comes to opening/closing gates…but have I actually done anything? Eh, not so much by way of actual gate work, but she’s learning things like sidepassing, pivoting, and some of the more finely-tuned precision cues, so I figured we would at least give it a try at appropriate gates.) but other gates are either barbed-wire cowboy gates, or ones that were just awkwardly designed and not intended to be gotten from horseback.

Fortunately, the next few gates had been opened for us, so we were able to cruise through and get a nice, steady pace going for a bit until we heading into the section of unending gates. Just within a several-mile section, there had to be at least half a dozen gates.

There’s a “mini loop” that’s part of this loop that has been known as the “Ag Loop” over the years. I don’t know why, other than if you look at the satellite view of the area, it’s a road that loops around what looks like used to be some sort of farming/planting field…can see the shadow of old planting rows still on the overview. It adds about 2 miles onto the loop…but it’s flat and really good footing most of the way. We kicked it up into a canter and zipped around that loop, going by photographers Susan and John Kordish along the way.

I absolutely love how these photos turned out…we were both having fun as we went through that section.

From there, it was just a few miles back to camp. Maybe a mile or so out from camp, MJ commented that it looked like Libby might have lost one of her rear glue-ons, but it was hard to tell because we were on on a section of the trail that was basically bushwhacking through tall grass. But once we got to a clear spot…yep, sure enough, she had pitched a boot somewhere in the last couple miles. The trail right into camp was really good footing, though, so we kept on trucking, and when we stopped at the water trough at the edge of camp, I jumped off and slapped one of my spare strap boots on her before hopping back on and heading through camp for the trot-by. Both horses got cleared to continue, and since the next loop was a quick little 7-mile jaunt, we elected to not bother to stop at the trailers or anything, and get the next loop done.

Amazing tree along loop 2. Maybe some sort of desert-y oak?

This loop did a little climbing up to one of the ridgelines, which meant we got some beautiful scenic vistas of all the surrounding mountain ranges.

Water break at the top of the ridge…thanks, MJ, for the photo!

The last mile or so into camp was the same trail for all of the loops, so as soon as we hit that section, the horses were quite happy to hustle into camp. Both were pulsed down immediately, and got them vetted through right away, then back over to the trailers for the rest of the 45-minute hold.

Sofie did her usual song-and-dance routine for me when I let her out, then took her for a quick stretch, got Libby settled with some food, and sat down and ate a quick lunch for myself. (I still have some aspects of my tastebuds that are akin to that of an elementary school kid, since I grabbed a couple Lunchables when I was at the grocery store, and that really hit the spot this weekend for lunch.) Water bottles refilled, Libby switched from bit to hackamore, Sofie settled back in the trailer, and then it was time to head over to the out-timer. We had a couple minutes to wait, then time to head out on loop 3.

We headed out the same way as loop 1 for the first several miles, then cut across a different section of trail that cut several miles off the southern-most section of loop 1. We had quite a few more gates to wrangle along the way, including a few rather dismal cowboy gates that were little more than a heap of barbed wire and sticks.

It also included a shallow creek crossing that both horses were wildly unimpressed with…we spent a good 5 minutes trying to convince them to cross before MJ finally jumped off and marched across the water, dragging Dreamer behind her…and Libby reluctantly followed behind him. No idea what gremlins were whispering in their ears over that, since Libby happily went through that same crossing last year.

Loop 3 re-joined the loop 1 trail just a few miles before the Ag Loop section…but for loop 3, we didn’t have to do the Ag Loop. Just a stop at the trough, and then continue on up the road, only a few miles away from camp. A little ways up the road, I got a major “heart in throat, oh crap” moment when Libby all of a sudden started head bobbing, on what felt like a front leg. I thought my ride was over right there…and then glanced down and realized she had lost a front glue-ons. Hop off, install strap boot, hop back on…continue on totally sound. Okay, minor crisis averted, and only a couple miles left until camp.

And then the other front glue-on came off, less than a mile later. And I was out of spare boots on my saddle. Oh, well…nothing to do but press on, walking the rougher sections and trotting when the footing was good. The last half-mile or so, I hopped off to jog into camp, doing everything I could to ensure she didn’t get too ouchy.

In camp, she pulsed right away, and I got one of the volunteers to hold her for a moment while I dashed over to the trailer to grab another spare boot before we vetted through. Boot installed, we vetted through great…and I noticed that she had pitched her other hind glue-on as well, sometime in the last couple miles into camp. Uggghhhhh.

Back over to the trailer, same routine as before…only this time, add in “make sure all strap boots are squared away.” I was definitely feeling a little “over it” by this point. Libby was being really spooky, but Dreamer wouldn’t lead, so it was on us to lead pretty much the entire way, doing her best “Arabian pinball” impression along the way, spooking at every dead log, clump of strange brush, and large rock along the way. I have thrown in the towel on retaining any semblance of dignified rider, and was shameless using the pommel hoop on my saddle as an “anchor” point. Dealing with the glue-ons also had shredded whatever specks of patience I had left, so when a couple of friends stopped by to see how it was going, I know my response was probably slightly colorful, punctuated by a few tears (because apparently I was still also riding the emotional rollercoaster of the first couple months of 2022, so honestly, it hasn’t taken much for the waterworks to surface).

I swear, I do this for fun.

But, for better or worse…this is the reality of endurance riding. Not everything is going to be smooth sailing and glitter-farting unicorns. There’s ups and downs, troubleshooting along the way, and some rides that are just better than others.

Waiting at the out-timer to head out on loop 4. Big mare looks a little tired…but to be fair to her, I also hadn’t bothered to sponge the sweat fully off of her, and looking like a salt lick isn’t her most flattering look. It was also warming up, and I had just pulled her away from the nice nap she was enjoying.

Out on loop 4…the same way we went for loop 2, but keep going further out before turning back towards camp. The further we went, the less “wildly motivated” Libby was. See, we had done this portion of the trail last year, and as far as she knew, we were going all the way out across the highway and onto the Arizona Trail section. I knew we weren’t going out that far, and cutting back towards camp before we reached the highway, but she didn’t. And while it never reached levels of having to pedal her, I did have to do some extra encouraging here and there for “enthusiastic forward motion.” (Okay, fine, mare, it doesn’t have to be enthusiastic, but I would like it to be more than 6.5mph.)

Riding a horse who is pretty sensitive and intuitive also means I have to guard my own mindset…if I’m looking at the GPS going, “How many more miles do we have? What do you mean we’ve only gone a mile since I last looked?”, she’s going to pick up on that, so it’s hardly fair to ask her to be the enthusiastic party for both of us. Once we hit the far point of the loop and started heading back around towards camp, we both perked up more, though. And we were up on some ridgelines again, so lots of beautiful scenery to admire.

Pictures don’t do this area justice. The grasslands and foothills running right up into the wild, rugged mountain ranges…the fact that so much of it is still wild and untouched, that there are still places left that I can escape from the urban sprawl and sea of tile roofs…it’s not hard to imagine the days of Tombstone and the old west alive and well. (The Empire Ranch is just about 45 miles west of Tombstone, for the geography and history segment out there.)

The last several miles of loop 4 connected up to the in-trail from loop 2, so it was cruising in on familiar turf from that point on, and all of us were in “get ‘er done” mode. (No problem with motivation now.) My lovely forward rhythm was rudely interrupted when Libby blew one of her hind boots just outside of camp (literally, camp was in sight, and we had just started cantering in on the smooth road that lead into camp). Fortunately, MJ noticed it, and stopped and waited for me to jump off, slap it back on (she had ripped the pastern strap and then stepped on it, yanking the boot off), make myself crawl back on my increasingly-taller horse, and resume our lovely canter in.

We ended up coming in 5th and 6th, in a ride time of 8:16. Libby vetted through nicely, although she was pretty reactive on one side in front of her girth — at first glance it looked like some sort of scrape or gall. I took her back to the trailer and got her cleaned up, and she definitely had something there that had broken the skin — it looked more long and skinny than a typical gall, though, so I wonder if a stick caught and jabbed in when we were doing some of the bushwhacking sections? Whatever the case, she wasn’t happy about it, so between that, and my own general sense of being done, I opted out of going for day 2.

When Saturday morning rolled around, Libby was bright-eyed and perky…but still sore on that side, so I was satisfied with my decision. Hung around camp and socialized a bit, then got packed up and headed home, getting back to the barn early afternoon with a mare who was still full of beans enough to go running out to the pasture when I turned her out.

And so the ride season rolls on. We’ve got something on the books every month through June, and then will pick back up again in September. Fun rides ahead, and plenty of club activities and training to keep me busy for a while…(and a desperate need to practice my gluing techniques, apparently…)

Ride Story: Wickenburg Land of the Sun 50, Feb 2022

photo by AZ Cowgirl Photography

The month preceding the ride has been a difficult one, after losing my grandfather and one of my dogs, Artemis. Much of the time, I’ve been going through the motions, trying to sort through my grief and emotions. Saddle time has been good therapy for me, but there have been many days that even going through my usual routines and habits has been hard because Artemis was so intertwined in my daily life, and everything reminds me of her. Including going to rides, especially because I had such big plans this year for taking the dogs with me on the road to as many rides as I could.

So my enthusiasm was admittedly low going into the ride. As much as I enjoy the Boyd Ranch basecamp, I loathe the 8+ miles of washboard dirt road that it takes to get back into camp. My one experience with riding the Wickenburg trails out of this location was the first year that the ride moved to the Boyd Ranch, and it was met with mixed results. (Long story short: Liberty and I ended up with the sort of ride you look back on years later and go, “Well, it was a good learning experience.” Didn’t feel quite so magnanimous about it at the time, though, and wasn’t looking for a repeat performance.) I’d heard from others that the trails had been drastically improved since that ride, but there’s only so much you can do to avoid the inevitable rocks and sand that make up much of the Wickenburg area.

A nice rain storm and cold front blew in on Wednesday before the ride, which altered my original plans of “give Liberty a good bath, and do some experimenting with gluing boots” into “I’ll give her a thorough currying at the ride and her regular strap boots will be fine.” Friday morning, I packed up the last of the feed/camp supplies that I store down at the barn, loaded up Libby, and hit the road, with Sofie riding shotgun in the front seat.

She’s got herself a nice little “nest” in the front seat with a bolster cushion all around. I also put a jacket on the center console so she can rest her head there and be really close to me. She’s not world’s most settled traveler but this seemed to suit her.

It’s not a bad drive to Wickenburg — I’m really fortunate to have so many rides in a relatively close radius (most of them end up being 3 hours or less) — and much of the time there isn’t distance so much as it is the fact I end up going from one side of the Valley to the other, so there’s the inherent congestion and traffic to contend with. For whatever reason, I hit a ton of traffic in Wickenburg itself, but even with that, and puttering my way down the dirt road in 4-wheel drive, I still made it to camp in under 3 hours.

Traffic jam on the way into jam…impressive longhorns

I feel like I’ve finally got a good routine down when I get to camp — unload Libby, tie her off, let her munch from her hay bag while I unload everything, get the inside of the trailer set up with my kitchen and mini tack room, more properly set up Libby’s arrangements with hay/water, get sleeping area set up inside the suburban. Having everything sorted into different storage bins/crates has made all the difference and really helps me stay organized, and move things back and forth.

Camp setup came together quickly, including setting up a cushy bed in the trailer for Sofie to hang out while I was out riding, and after I was all set up, I took advantage of it still being fairly early and zipped over to get Liberty vetted in. I’m really proud of how settled she’s gotten at vetting — this ride 6 years ago, she stepped on me, wouldn’t let her mouth be handled by the vet, and needed a major “discussion” about personal space. Now? She’s polite, trots right at my shoulder, and doesn’t bat an eyelash for the vet. Amazing what a bit of time to mentally grow up, and some consistent exposure and handling has done for her.

I socialized for a bit after that, then saddled up for a quick, leg-stretch pre-ride, and met up with Troy and his new young mare to check out the first few miles of one of the loops. Liberty was in fine (read: “spooky”) form, having only done a light arena session the previous weekend, so she had quite a bit of energy pent up. The leg stretch did her good, though…as did the access to the gigantic arena at Boyd Ranch. After our pre-ride, I took her over to the arena and put her through her paces for about 20 minutes. She was not amused, since she really doesn’t see the point of arena work, but it did the trick to blow off a bit more steam and get her brain a little more tuned back in to me.

The ride did a big taco dinner Friday night before ride briefing, so I ate my tacos, did some socializing, listened to ride briefing, did a little more socializing after briefing, finished up some last-minute saddle prep for the next day, then called it a night and crawled into bed.

4:30 rolled around way too soon the next morning, and I had the most unmotivated sense of, “ugh, I don’t want to do this” going on. So much of this ride, I had been going through the motions, still existing in a fog of emotional grief, and having a hard time really caring about the whole endeavor. The only thing keeping me from bailing was the fact I had agreed to sponsor Hailey again, after our successful ride at Tonto Twist the previous month, and my commitment to that was enough to get me crawling out of bed and grabbing about for ride clothing. Normally, I lay out my ride clothes the night before, but I was so “meh” about everything, it ended up being a “whatever comes out of the duffel is what’s going on” morning.

It was also chillier than I had expected it to be and what the weather had predicted, and I was wearing several layers by the time it was all said and done. My morning ride routine has gotten pretty quick — dress, take Sofie out, then put her back in the truck to snooze and stay warm while I start coffee and put Libby’s boots on. Drink coffee, eat breakfast, saddle Libby, take Sofie out one more time, settle her in the back of the trailer, mount up, and start warming up. We had a sort of early start — 6:30 — and in mid-February, that meant it was still dark out when we started. I collected Hailey from her rig, and we spent some time warming the mares up and walking them around, then headed out in the middle of the pack at the start.

We ended up letting pretty much all of the pack go around us within the first few hundred yards out of camp, due to Jantar getting a little perturbed over leaving her stablemate (whom Lancette would be riding in the LD)…so we took it nice and easy, found a space bubble for ourselves, and got Jantar well settled before picking up the pace and cruising down the trail.

The trails around Boyd Ranch are a combo of dirt roads, single track, and sand wash. It’s the Arizona desert, so there’s a fair share of rocks along the way as well, but that’s pretty much an inescapable par for the course around here anymore. Fortunately, there seemed to be enough smooth, well-flowing sections of the trail to offset the rocky areas. The course consisted of three loops — 17 miles, then a pulse-down and trot-by in camp, out for another 12 miles, then an hour hold in camp, and then out for the final 19 mile loop. The first loop flowed really well…some fun single track (when you’re on two athletic horses, twisty single track is fun), some short climbing up and down the desert ridgelines, plenty of sand wash, and my favorite section of trail that passes through an old-growth mesquite forest (that I unfortunately failed to get pictures of because I really needed a third hand to juggle the camera at that point in the ride).

Both mares were pulsed down right away when we got back into camp, and cleared to continue on to the next loop. We stayed for a few extra minutes in camp to let them eat (Libby got to experience the wonders of bran mash for the first time in her life, and I practically had to crowbar her away from the pan when it was time to leave), then headed out for the second loop.

Photographers John & Susan Kordish were set up on loop 2, just a little ways out of camp, and John’s spot included an angle that hilariously captured this zen rock garden labyrinth thing that was set up right next to the trail, and garnered more than one hairy equine eyeball in passing by.

I had once again sent Hailey in front of me for the photographers, and when I do that, I certainly get…amusing…ride photos, as Libby doesn’t see the humor in having her new BFF head down the trail in front of her, so tends to toss in some humorous expressions and animation. (I think her zen garden mantra was “embrace your inner giraffe.”)

Partway through loop 2, we saw this really cool crested saguaro

There was quite a bit of really fun single-track on this loop, and both mares were quite happy zipping along the trail. We would trade off leading, and Jantar was probably the most relaxed I’ve ever seen her. Normally, she really likes to lead, but this time around, she was quite content to do a lot of swapping back and forth and calmly follow behind Libby. (I don’t know what it is about Liberty, but this isn’t the first time this has happened…a lot of horses that I ride with end up really liking this mare. And she likes….eh, probably 98% of other horses. There’s just a handful that hold “mortal enemy” status.)

At one point, I had to rather strongly enforce one of my pet topics…trail etiquette. Specifically, water trough etiquette. If riders in front of you are at a water trough, you STOP AND WAIT. DO NOT CROWD INTO A TROUGH THAT ALREADY HAS HORSES DRINKING.

This has probably been the area I have run into the most challenges at during rides. I’ve had my horses barged into, bitten, crowded, pushed out of the way, kicked at…all at water troughs. I’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with it for myself…but if you do that to my junior rider and potentially threaten her well-being when her horse starts getting upset at being crowded…well, let’s just say I didn’t know I actually possessed that level of inner Mama Bear to unleash…but apparently I do.

Maybe it’s the fact I started in NATRC, where etiquette and control is such an integral part of the ride, to the point where you are being judged on it, or my showring background, which comes with its own set of protocols and ring etiquette…but this is one area I feel like I just can’t emphasize enough. To the point where I did an entire learning event presentation on it last year for the Arizona endurance club, and will happily do it again. It’s a topic that really deserves its own blog post for me to really get my teeth into it, so for now, we’ll just leave it at my above mini-rant.

All of the loops share the same last mile+ of trail back into camp, and both mares knew exactly where they were by the time we hit that shared trail point, and they went hustling back to camp. Pulsed down immediately and vetted through with great scores, then headed back to the trailers for our hour hold.

The nice thing about doing 30 miles before your hold is that you know you’re over halfway done. The not as nice thing is you’re really ready for a break by that point, so it felt really good to sit down for a few minutes, gulp down a cup of ramen noodles, tend to a wardrobe malfunction (*thisclose* to slicing my underwear off during that second loop), and take a short breather. Not for too long, though, since there was the dog to walk, water bottles to refill, horse tack to switch over (Libby’s been earning her hackamore privileges back on the latter part of the ride), and all the other little housekeeping items that get crammed into the span of less than an hour.

Onto the last loop…19 miles. We headed out on a trail that paralleled part of loop 2 for a few miles, then headed out through an area that is still host to a bunch of active mining claims. There was some really nice trail through here…double-track roads that weren’t super rocky, so we were able to make some good time and maintain a pretty consistent pace.

It’s usually around this time — the 40-something mile point — that I start thinking that 50 miles really is a long way, and start questioning my sanity, and why I do this for fun…so I gotta say I was immensely grateful once again to have Hailey there. Her cheer and enthusiasm helped make the miles go by faster, and I really enjoy sharing the trails with her.

Heading down…the photo doesn’t give the steepness of this downhill justice, but we had to make our way down this side of this ridgeline, heading for the wash at the bottom.
Somewhere in my photo archives, I have a near-duplicate of this photo, only taken between Mimi’s ears, from one of our rides at Wickenburg. It’s not the same ride — different camp and different trails — but close enough.

Coming back into camp for the third time, we had a couple of seriously motivated mares on our hands…instead of leisurely meandering in, they were in “we’re going to trot in, thanks” mode…not that I was arguing. Nice to be finishing up a ride with strong, energetic horses. I didn’t know where we were at, placing-wise, exactly…I just knew we were roughly mid-pack based on people we had passed over the course of the day. As it turned out, we came in 10th & 11th — and I had sent Hailey across the line in front of me, so she was able to come in Top Ten. Super proud of her, and she definitely earned it…she’s a competent, caring rider, and her excitement and delight over her finish made it well worth it.

A group of happy girls at the finish

Both mares were pulsed down, so we vetted through right away, and our completion netted me my 1000 endurance miles…finally. Which is a whole other blog post and topic unto itself. Annnndddd…the “champagne at the finish” tradition from the old Wickenburg ride was also carried over, so I got to enjoy a little glass of bubbly on the way back to the trailer. (Which Liberty was quite intrigued by, but I don’t share.)

Saturday night awards was preceded by an amazing potluck spread…people keep outdoing themselves in the food department, and I am here for it. Had some really good company and conversations over dinner, the awards presentation and recognition of all the riders was really nice, and everything wrapped up before it got too late.

What started as a ride I really hadn’t been very excited about doing — between life circumstances, the road into the ranch, and a general distaste for the trails due to past experience — ended up turning into a very good, cathartic, healing weekend, proving once again that a good horse and saddle time is a cure for so much.

We’re in the thick of ride season now…as I write this, at the beginning of April, we have recently done a day at the Old Pueblo ride in Sonoita in March, and have another ride coming up next weekend. There have never been so many rides in AZ since I got started in the sport, and I’m so excited about it. So stay tuned, because it’s really nice to have a lot to blog about.)

Ride Story: Tonto Twist 50, Jan 2022

(This story has been a little delayed in the writing of because a week after the ride, my grandfather passed away, and only a few days after his funeral, I unexpectedly lost Artemis, so that sort of took the wind out of my sails for the retelling of the ride tale, especially since it was a ride I had taken the dogs with me. My mojo has been a bit flat for the past month+ and my writing may reflect that, but I just need to get these done before I get too far behind.)

photo by AZ Cowgirl Photography

Tonto Twist. It’s become one of my favorite rides, despite the fact I’ve had some really questionable results at it (was 0/2 in finishing it going into this year). It’s my home trails and one of my most frequented training grounds. Ride management is superb (managed by my friend Lancette Koerner and her ace team of co-managers, Ellen and Wendy and a slew of volunteers), it’s a total frills ride with excellent amenities, great trail markings, and a really fun course. It’s a 50-mile only, and while it’s not an easy course, it’s a very doable ride for a horse with solid fitness and a smart rider.

Last year, I wasn’t able to make it to Tonto due to schedule conflicts with another planned event, so this year was going to be my year. I was finally going to get to tackle this ride with my own horse, a horse who had been training on these trails for the past year and half. I was excited, and also really hoping to break my “Tonto curse” and actually finish it this year. (“Third time’s a charm” worked for Liberty & I in finishing her 1st 50, so maybe the same thing would apply here.)

Sometime last year, at some point during one of our training rides or conversations, I had casually mentioned to Lancette that if for whatever reason she was ever unable to sponsor her junior rider granddaughter Hailey, it was something I could probably do. It got filed away on the shelf, as casual mentions do, and then as we headed into winter ride season, Lancette asked me if I had been serious about the offer to sponsor Hailey. Given that Lancette was the ride manager, she wasn’t going to be riding her own ride, but this is Hailey’s last year as a junior, and since Lancette wasn’t going to be riding, Hailey would be able to ride Lancette’s horse and do the ride, provided she had an adult sponsor.

I confirmed that yep, I had been serious — I’ve watched Hailey grow up on horseback since she was about 8 years old, knew she was a competent rider who had catch-ridden a number of different horses, and also knew Lancette’s mare Jantar very well, having done training rides alongside her for a number of years now. All of those factors combined made it a scenario that I knew a lot of the variables involved, and therefore felt very comfortable with, and was immensely honored that Lancette trusted me enough to take me up on my offer.

Before the ride, Hailey and I did a solid 20-mile training ride to make sure that all parties involved were compatible and happy (we all were), and just from that training ride alone, I knew we were going to have a fun ride.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous going into the ride, though. Sponsoring a junior is a big responsibility, and there’s times that I’ve felt that I still need a sponsor out there…so what in the world was I doing, having to be the adult in the room? But my own personal nerves and insecurities didn’t stop the calendar from rolling forward, and before I knew it, ride weekend was upon us.

As I mentioned earlier, these are my home training trails, and base camp is less than 30 minutes away from the barn. I had the suburban packed up Thursday night, and Friday morning, I loaded up the dogs and we hit the road.

“Yeeaaahhh, rooooaaaaad trippppp!!!” ~Artemis

Lancette had a parking spot saved for me, and had kindly offered her extra portable corral for Liberty so that the two mares could hang out near each other. In the past I’ve had a Hi-Tie, or in more recent times, have just hard-tied Libby to the trailer, but after this weekend, I ended up being a fan of the corral option as well. Libby’s good in any containment set-up, really, so it’s nice to have flexibility and options.

Libby & the pups. Damp ground in corral courtesy of Libby figuring out she could grab the bucket handle and dump her water buckets. Buckets promptly got tied off to the panels after that discovery.

Once I got all settled in, Hailey and I saddled up and took the mares out for a quick leg-stretch pre-ride. They were both really good, and not at all fizzy, so a really good way to go into the ride. Vetted in when we got back, with all A’s and horses that were happy and ready to go.

Friday evening ride briefing is preceded by a really delicious potluck dinner, and the spread of food never disappoints. It’s a fun way to start off the evening, and my favorite ride format is having a potluck Friday, and the ride dinner on Saturday after the ride.

Ride briefing gave us the pertinent information — loop 1 was 30 miles, with an hour hold back in camp, then loop 2 was 13.5 miles, with a pulse down/trot out check in camp, then back out for the 6.5-mile loop 3 and back in to camp to finish. Loops 2 and 3 are my regular training loops, so I was really curious to see how Libby would handle the whole concept…would she be like, “ho hum, these are my training trails” and lose interest and initiative, or would knowing where she was at be an even stronger motivating factor? I guess we would find out the next day…

I made sure Liberty had plenty of hay and water for the night, got her settled in with a blanket, took the dogs out for a final walk, then tucked ourselves into bed for the night with the serenade of coyotes and owls in the background.

Saturday morning dawned cold and windy. The weather had forecast some wind, but to wake up at 4:30 in the morning and have it already be gusting? The wind typically gets worse as the sun comes up, so I wasn’t sure how that would bode for the rest of the day…

Liberty, at this point, had decided that Jantar was her new BFF, and was definitely up as I tacked her up and got her ready, since Jantar had moved from her corral over to be tied off to the side of the trailer, and Liberty did. not. approve. <sigh> We had to have a couple of discussions about her chilling the heck out and standing quietly, and not moving around so that the wind tried to pick up and relocate the saddle pad…but we eventually got it done and were ready to face the day. I got the dogs settled in the back of the trailer with their coats and a pile of cushy beds and fleeces, then mounted up with plenty of time for a good walking warm-up.

My main concern at the start was to prevent Jantar from getting crowded, which can make her feel competitive and defensive, so to that end, we hung back from the immediate dozen+ horses that headed out at the start, and found a perfect space bubble between the “starting crowd rush” and the crowd of “everyone who wanted to hang back and wait.” We had an absolutely perfect start, with both mares walking out calmly (which is so funny…Libby was fairly “up” during warm-up, doing some head tossing and dancing around…but as soon as we started, she was all business and totally calm on a loose rein) and moving into an easy trot as soon as we hit the trail.

The sun was just starting to come up as we hit the trail, and with it, came even more wind. Fortunately, neither mare was at all fazed by it, and we were able to set a very comfortable pace, making good use of some of the nicer parts of the trail early on. Up on the ridgelines as we made our way into the Goldfield Mountains, the wind was gusting at over 45mph…that was the first time I had truly experienced wind that actually threatened to blow me out of the saddle, and it was wild. Super proud of both mares for forging on through and not even batting at eye at the gusts.

There’s a section of the course that’s about 5 miles of slower-going, rocky dirt road…I don’t think it’s the kind of trail anyone volunteers to go out and ride “for fun” on a training ride, but it’s such a small section of trail compared to the whole rest of the ride which has overall really good footing, that it’s a minor thing in the grand scope of the whole ride, and it’s what makes the ride happen and allows loop 1 to be such a long, large loop without repeat trail or backtracking. It’s also a good chance for the horses to let down a bit — it’s not a road you can get much speed on, so you trot wherever it’s clear, walk the rocks, and enjoy the scenery. And keep some gas in the tank for the 4-mile uphill of sand wash that follows this section.

Down in the wash, it felt really good to stretch out and move. Somewhere along that section, either in the last bit of rocks or in the sand, Libby popped a hind boot off — she had shredded the pastern strap a few miles back on the road, but I had hand-waved it away, figuring I would replace it when we hit the water stop, since she’s held her boots without the pastern strap numerous times before, but when we got to the water stop I glanced down and realized she had managed to slip that back boot off. <sigh> (Fortunately, someone found it and turned it in to lost-n-found, so it wasn’t lost to the sands of time forever…)

I always carry spare boots, though, so I quickly slapped a replacement on, gave her a dose of electrolytes, and hopped back on. We were down in a canyon at this point, and it was serving as a wind tunnel, channeling huge gusts of wind down and peppering us with blowing sand. Neither mare was much interested in hanging out around the water stop, and knowing there was another stop only a couple miles further up the trail, we continued on.

At the next checkpoint, 16 miles in, both mares drank really well, and we paused for a few minutes here to let them eat. With the first loop being 30 miles before we were back to camp, with no forced holds along the way, it was on us as riders to make sure we took the time on our own to let the horses have some small breaks, and the chance to eat along the way. It was also nice to enjoy a few minutes in a more sheltered spot out of the wind!

Heading out from that check, we passed by photographers John & Susan Kordish, who as always, got some fun ride pics of us.

I’d sent Hailey out in front of me, and Liberty was not amused at being held back. Much giraffe-ing ensued, and a handful of truly amusing photos. I especially like where she’s totally blocking me…fine, mare, we know it’s all about you anyway.

The next section of the trail zipped through Usery Mountain Park…lots of twisting, turning, fun single-track…and dozens of other trail users to make sure we didn’t run over. All of our regional parks in the Valley have gotten so busy and so popular…hard not to feel a bit cranky about it, and the exploding population around here, when in some cases, I literally helped carve out some of the trails that we horse people are now being effectively pushed out of. But I digress…

Usery is a pretty part of the trail, and marks what I consider the start of “the easier part of the ride.” Aside from a couple miles of some climbing up to a ridgeline on loop two, most of the ride is now fairly flat, has good footing, and is really fun to cruise through. Except when your horse is too busy staring at people on a bench to notice the embedded rock in front of her, and catches a toe and takes a knee…<sigh> Fortunately we stayed upright, and she only scuffed up one knee a little bit. Still, not awesome, and I spent the next several miles crossly reminding her to “watch her feet” every time we’d come upon some rocks.

There’s one checkpoint/water stop within the park, and then several checkpoint road crossings to get back to camp. Both Liberty and Jantar really know this route, especially once we hit a certain point in the park, and from there it was “we’re going home!” back to our usual conditioning ride staging grounds out of Prospector Park. For the actual ride, Prospector is a checkpoint, with hay and water, and from there, only a mile or so back to camp. When we popped into Prospector, I think Libby was confused — I could see her looking around, going “where’s our trailer?” and a bit of a “wait, we’re leaving?” when we headed back out to the trailer. But the homing pigeon quickly kicked in again, and both mares hustled their way through the last stretch of the loop back into camp.

They were pulsed down immediately upon coming in, and we vetted right through, then had an hour hold for lunch. Management provide lunch for the riders, so that’s always a super-sweet bonus perk, to have a lovely snack lunch ready and waiting for me. The girls were thrilled to see me…let them out of the trailer and took them for a quick walk, although by all reports it sounds like they were quietly sleeping all morning long (a number of people asked me where I kept them, because they never heard them, so I guess that’s good they’re not sitting in the back of the trailer creating a ruckus).

I also had to fix a couple pastern straps that Liberty was systematically working on wearing through (she sometimes interferes on her hinds, and the spot where she interferes just happens to be right at the inside pastern strap loop, so she’s been wearing through those rather quickly, and I’m not sure if there’s something I need to adjust on her trim, or what’s going on), and before I knew it, our hour was up and we were heading back out on loop 2.

It was still really overcast and windy, and given that part of this next loop was going up on another ridgeline, I actually added another clothing later back on, in the form of a windbreaker vest. All of the loops start out the same for the first few miles, and loop 2 heads out up the same wide dirt road as loop 1, but then continues up the road further before picking up another road and ultimately heading up into the hills again.

The most excitement we had on the loop was when we had just passed over the stepover gate, and a whole pack of dirtbikes came up behind us. The area were had just crossed into is motor vehicle access by permit only (gate code to open the gate next to the stepover) and I don’t know if they just couldn’t be bothered to open the gate…or if they didn’t actually have a permit…but they lined up and decided it would be a good idea to jump their bikes over the horse stepover.

Neither mare thought having that behind them was a particularly funny idea, so after the first one jumped the gate and startled both horses, I told Hailey we were getting out of there pronto. Put the mares into a fast trot and then canter, and boogied our way up the road and away from the dirtbike pack.

From there, the rest of the trail was quiet, and super scenic. From this part of the course, you get a great view of the Superstitions immediately to the southeast, and out in the distance, Four Peaks to the northeast horizon.

The “family friendly” moniker of this particular rock is called “Pistachio Rock”…because it’s green.

Loop 2 is one of my regular training rides out here, so both horses were on autopilot, in a good way. They knew the trail, and were quite relaxed and happy about it. Partway through the loop, I ended up putting Liberty up front. Hailey and Jantar had led a good part of the ride thus far, with the exception of several miles through Usery Park, and had done an amazing job. Jantar actually prefers the front most of the time, but getting her more comfortable with not leading all the time has been part of her training agenda more recently, so I figured this would be a good time to see how she did. Fortuantely, she and Liberty have really hit it off, and she ended up being quite okay with us going in the front for the next few miles, and then trading off again…we rode the whole rest of the ride that way, trading off leading every few miles.

The trail loops around and takes us into Prospector Park again for a checkpoint, then back into camp for a quick pulse and trot-by before heading out for the last little 6-1/2-mile loop. Both mares pulsed and trotted great, and neither Hailey or myself felt the need to linger in camp beyond a couple minutes to let the mares grab a few bites to eat…now let’s get this thing done!

The third loop, all 6-1/2 miles of it, is mostly flat, with excellent footing 95% of the time. The hardest part of it is having to peel away from camp at the last second and take “the long way around” to come into camp to add the last couple of miles on. Horses — and riders! — don’t find this part particularly amusing.

Both mares looked great trotting across the finish line…they pulsed in right away, and vetted through immediately…and I broke my “Tonto bad luck” streak with finally getting a completion! I held my breath right up until the end, since I was pulled at the finish the last time I did this ride, but Libby looked great and the vets were super-pleased with her. And so was I. Tonto isn’t an easy ride, and she was cheerful and forward all day long, on trails that she knows really well, where the pull of “home” and “ugh, I know where this goes” could be strong.

The Saturday evening awards dinner at Tonto is always a treat — homemade fry bread tacos — and I really appreciate the “production” that is made for this ride in terms of doing a proper awards ceremony and presentation. Even though the barn and home is close by, I still opted to stay overnight…takes me too long to pack up, especially in the dark when I’m tired, so it’s easier to just wait until morning and roll out when it’s daylight.

I was absolutely thrilled with how the ride went…I had a blast with sponsoring Hailey, and truly enjoyed riding with her. She’s clever, enthusiastic, and has a passion for horses and endurance that is infectious and permeates everything she does. Her cheerful, upbeat nature made the miles go by really quickly, and was a really good reminder of why we do what we do out there…for the love of our horses, and the chance to experience some beautiful trails we might not otherwise access.


My shining star that burned so bright, for far too short of a time.

When Velcro that is firmly stuck to something gets ripped away, it often leaves behind rips, holes, and tatters. Artemis was that Velcro, and the shredded, tattered fabric is my heart after her very sudden and unexpected passing last week.

She was only 8 years old. That’s barely half of the typical expected terrier lifespan. She was my Adventure Puppy, with so many plans still ahead of us, and I feel cheated out of the rest of the years we should have had together.

I know everyone always wants to know,”What happened?” The short answer? We don’t really know for sure. Vet suspects maybe some kind of internal cancer that ruptured and caused internal bleeding. She went downhill so quickly and so unexpectedly it caught everyone off guard. One of the few consolations I’m clinging to out of the whole ordeal is that she passed in the comfort of her own home, in her own bed, surrounded by her “pack” who loved her.

It’s been a week, and it still feels surreal. There’s a part of my brain that thinks, “This has all been a nightmare, and I’m going to wake up and everything is going to be fine.” But the gutted feeling that accompanies me is a tangible reminder that this is all too real. There’s a hole in my heart, and a void in the house. She was such a live wire, so full of liveliness and spark, that even if she was totally silent, you knew she had entered a room just by feel and the elevation of the surrounding energy. Not that she was very silent for long — she was always quick to make her presence known and politely demand that attention be paid to her.

Action Puppy from early on

She was my first dog. Of course, I had grown up with the family Bouviers (another absolutely amazing breed), but after the passing of our last Bouv, the house stayed dogless for a couple of years. And then the opportunity to acquire a Decker Rat Terrier puppy presented itself, and I had the blessing of my parents to bring my own canine companion into the household.

But even as I call her “my” dog, the reality is, she was a family dog, and firmly lodged her way into all of our hearts. She came into the household during a time when her sunny disposition, cheerful and playful nature, and the endless laughter she generated, was desperately needed.

She was my travel buddy, my trail companion, my “better than a teddy bear” comfort-giver. She was my running coach who helped work me all the way up to running a 50k. She saw me through so many ups and downs of the past 8 years, whether it be joyous celebration or a quick tongue to catch my tears.

She was the dog that broke all the rules. Long-held declarations and intentions of the dog’s place in the house went right out the window with this one. I always said I’d never allow dogs in bed with me. Well, exceptions were quickly made within the first couple of months when I tucked her in my sleeping bag to stay warm on our first camping trip. Fine, so no dogs in bed…except for when we’re camping. Ultimately, that “no dogs in bed” resolution lasted all of six months before I relented and found out just how much space one small terrier can actually take up on a double bed.

Dogs have never been allowed on the furniture in the house…but there’s a large bedroom chair and 3 office chairs that are now the exceptions to that rule.

When I brought Sofie home, that really completed her world. She adored her mama, and although she tested Sofie’s long-suffering patience on a daily basis, she also taught her how to play, and the two of them turned into quite a tag-team of daily laughs and entertainment.

She really was like a shining star that burns so hot, so bright, that it can only be contained for so long. She packed so much into her 8 short years, and truly got to live life to the fullest. She was my best friend for the past 8 years, and I will carry her pawprints on my heart for the rest of my life.

Chewy DW — “Artemis”
September 21, 2013 – February 1, 2022
Droogie — A friend to all who knew her.

Happy New Year & Looking at 2022

Happy New Year!

I once again followed my favorite tradition of “whatever you do on New Year’s Day is what you’ll do the rest of the year” and got in a fantastic ride today. A cool, clear, Arizona winter day, spent with good friends and good horses…I can’t think of a better way to start the year.

So, my tongue-in-cheek term for New Year’s resolutions is “inebriated declarations of good intent.” Sometimes they’re too vague, or far-reaching, to be particularly useful or even realistically attainable. Sometimes they’re very predictable. (Let’s face it, right now we’re all still full of post-holiday cheese and day-of-the-week confusion, and are glaring daggers at our bathrooms scales, amirite?!? “Fitness” and “weight loss” tend to be chart-toppers for a reason.)

Mmmmm, cheese

But there’s something to be said for goal-setting, and heaven knows I often need some kind of framework and plan of action to focus my squirrel brain, so maybe for a change, it wouldn’t hurt to play around with a few resolutions/goals for the upcoming year.

  • Take more riding lessons with Liberty. I found an instructor who I really like, and although she is based out of Payson, she travels to the Valley for clinics and lessons. Just one lesson with her already has made a difference in my riding and in working on Liberty’s biomechanics.
  • Remember that it’s okay to say no. The latter part of the year heaped a ton on my plate — my own doing, and some of it I was really glad for and does take a high priority, like extra work — but I have to remind myself that it’s okay to not jump on every single project or idea that comes across my path, and when I do, to set boundaries and realistic expectations.
  • Finish my Masterson certification sometime this year. I really dropped the ball on this in the latter half of 2021 because I allowed it to drop too low on the priority list.
  • Incorporate more arena work into my weekly riding routine. It’s hard for me to trailer out and condition during the week because of the time involved (and kind of hard to drive and take down customer orders at the same time…) but I can manage a trip to the barn and an arena ride.
  • Keep getting off and hiking/running with Liberty on our solo rides.
  • Keep tracking mileage. For the first time ever, I managed to track all of my rides/miles this year. I didn’t get so ambitious as to detail them out, mind you…but on my year-at-a-glance calendar, I wrote down our mileage every time we rode. (And to tag on to that…increase our yearly mileage. We ended 2021 with 592 miles, a combo of training and competition rides. [If I had known we were that close to 600, I would have snuck in a final 8 miles.]
  • Do more gluing on of boots. I want to feel as confident in my glue job (or at least know that, failing a faulty tube of glue, I’ve done everything right on my end to make sure those things are staying on) and its reliability as I do with running the strap boots.
  • No major truck repairs? (Okay, this one is more of a wishful plea that the vehicular gremlins behave themselves, or make their own resolution to not give me too much grief this year. Or confine their grief to shenanigans with my rearview mirror thermostat display.)
  • Remind myself to not rush my ride plan. I have a goal in my head of wanting to get to 100s…but my gut is reminding me to take my time and make sure I’ve got the foundation laid really solidly. This foundation building is the time for ironing out minor quirks and doing our problem-solving now, and that rushing ahead won’t do myself or my mare any favors. We had a really good run this fall, so I want to keep that positive momentum going and keep steadily forging ahead.
  • Finally…blog more frequently. If I’ve been able to manage once a month for as long as I have…maybe set my goal to do twice a month posts. (Oh, look, this makes one post done for January already! Also, see above adage of “whatever you do on New Year’s…so, riding and blogging…sounds good to me!)