Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the road again

Well, we're off to the Valley of the Sun ride in the morning. We're helping volunteer tomorrow, so we have to be there early to help ribbon part of the trail (Note: If you're at the ride, and hate the ribbons, I didn't do that section. *grin*).

I'm starting to get a bit nervous, but I'm really looking forward to it. We are once again going to try a 50.

Mimi and Beamer got baths today. They were super-lucky and I hauled them down to Cindy's house, since she has hot water in her washrack. Then they got turned out in her pasture for about 20 minutes, and they trotted and cantered around, quite eager to explore the new turf. And Mimi got to flirt with Panama, so she was quite happy. Again, she didn't get the memo about what age she's supposed to be.

The trailer is packed. I just need to pack the food cooler tomorrow morning. It's supposed to be warm, which necessitated a last-minute clipping flurry of pony-fluff removal this afternoon. I have two cases of waters in the truck, extra ice for the cooler, and sponges and scoops ready.

My goal is to just finish the ride. I think it'll be easier for me to go slow and ride conservatively in the 50, versus risking pushing too hard, too fast, in the 25. I want to take pictures, something I've done a pretty poor job of up to this point.

The nice thing about McDowell is that it's close, only about an hour away. Which means I get to go home Saturday night and sleep in my own bed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

First of Spring 2002

I was sorting through my flash drive today and found where I had scanned a ton of my ride photos taken by professional photographers and saved them. I thought I had lost them when my *$%!& computer crashed in November, but apparently I did a better job of backing up certain things than I thought (we'll not talk about all the other pictures, and steno software realtime translation dictionary, and writing that I lost). That got me thinking about how I've wanted to start trying to put together stories, even vague snippets, of my early rides. This seems to be as good a place as any to start...

So for your entertainment, I present to you, Mimi's and my first NATRC ride together. This is the First of Spring ride, held in Alpine (just outside San Diego, around El Cajon), CA, in April 2002.

She would have been around 9, and we had been training for distance riding since summer of 2001. Dad's foxtrotter mare Kelly had come down with EPM in the spring of 2001, and it was a slow road to recovery, bringing her back up to strength. We would literally trailer out to one of the trailheads, tack up, ride for half a mile out, then come back. We really embraced the idea of Long, Slow Distance training.

Fortunately, Mimi and I also had 4 years of POA show training behind us. POA shows were all-day affairs, starting at 6a.m. and usually not wrapping up until 9 or 10p.m., and we were riding all day long. Western classes, including pleasure, equitation, showmanship, reining, and trail; English classes, including pleasure, equitation, and jumping; gymkhana, usually 6-8 different events. Yeah, we were nuts. But it was a great foundation in stamina and endurance. And eating and drinking under stress. (This one was more for me, not the pony. To this day, I still have no problem chowing down on food in the middle of a ride, and it likely harkens back to my mother stuffing mini-muffins and anything she could get her hands on in my mouth as I'm spazzing out over a jumping class.)

FoS was a one day ride, and we were riding the Novice division, which was a total of about 20 miles. We were fortunate enough to be camped next to one of my best friends, Kaity, whom I had shown with in POA. Her POA Sonny is actually a cousin to Mimi, although they look nothing alike. Kaity had been riding NATRC for a couple years ahead of me, so she was able to give me a lot of tips and pointers.

The rest of the story gets kind of fuzzy, as it was seven years ago, and time has dulled some of the more colorful moments. I recall check-in being fairly easy...we had showmanship and halter training to instill good ground manners (kind of). Ride day, however, started out very interesting. Alpine is close enough to San Diego to catch the morning fog that comes in off the ocean. The trail headed out next to a paved road that wound back though some horse properties, by some avocado trees, and then it turned into a wide dirt fire road that wound its way down into the base of a canyon area.

Mimi discovered the joys of jigging 1/4 mile into the ride. We jigging down the canyon. We jigged across the floor of the canyon, whcih sort of went out, then looped back around through some oak trees and tall grass, where the ride photos were taken. We jigged back up the canyon to a P&R stop. We pulsed down, actually stood for mounting, then jigged our way the last 1/2 mile back to camp for lunch.

I'm not sure what I was thinking when I went to drag myself back into the saddle after lunch, but I think it was probably something along the lines of "What am I thinking?" And we continued to jig. Down the side of a 2-lane paved road, with cars going by at least every 2-3 minutes. *sigh* We finally got off the road, onto a double-track road that sort of went up and down through a couple little hills, then onto a single track that stitchbacked its way down a very steep canyon. I didn't know it at the time, but this was to be the start of my Tevis training and exposure to narrow dropoff trails...*grin*

And Mimi is still jigging. Inexperienced at distance and trail riding I might have been, but even I knew not to get into an argument with her on the side of a cliff, so she got to merely jig along with her head stuffed up Kelly's tail until we made it down to the bottom, where she stopped jigging long enough to drink from the little stream flowing there.

We jigged our way another 1/2 mile or so to the second P&R check. We pulsed down, although not as well as the first one. (Hmmm, do you think the jigging is starting to catch up?) She deined to walk out of the P&R and back up the switchback trail. At this point, we caught up to Kaity, and rode with her the rest of the way back into camp, the same way we had come out for the second section. Oh, yes, and after a brief couple miles of walking, she jigged her way back into camp. *sigh*

The most amazing thing? Her back wasn't the slightest bit sore. We both came out with first place for Novice Junior in Horsemanship and Horse. I was completely staggered, and so proud of her! The next morning, my shoulders and arms were so sore, and I wasn't feeling quite so complimentary. But I had a six hour drive back home to nurse my sore muscles.

Man, writing that up makes me realize one thing: "You've come a long way, baby!" And that's for both of us. A closer look at the picture will reveal: a Myler level 3 semi-jointed ported kimberwicke and running martingale; Big Horn barrel saddle with the horn still intact; massively stuffed saddle packs; waaaay too many rider layers; crappy paddock boots (actually, they're a pair of nice Ariats I still own, just bad for trail riding and gaining any kind of traction on dirt). The stuffed pommel and cantle packs for a 20 mile ride still crack me up. Ironically, it took me until endurance to start realizing I didn't need to pack half the cavalry with me. The joy of crew bags in endurance. :)

It's pretty amazing...I remember a lot of odd details about that ride. I guess a first ride kind of burns an impression in your memory. Hope y'all enjoyed a little blast from the ride history past!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bulldog Canyon, or "The Dirty Grey Horse Ride"

Dad and I rode with Jim and Cindy down at Bulldog Canyon near the Salt River yesterday. We had an absolutely fantastic ride, and if I had to sum it up in one sentence, it would be, "The Go Pony is back!" Whatever was ailing her last fall is done and over with, because she was strong and forward the entire day, easily keeping up with the bigger horses.

We met and Jim and Cindy's and trailered up together. The trailhead is the only icky part of the trail, a small pullout right off the side of Bush Highway, which is a 2-lane highway that leads to the Salt River and Saguaro Lake. It's exceptionally busy in the summer, when the river is clogged to the brim with people wanting to going tubing. In the middle of winter, it's not as bad - at least there's no shuttle buses. In the morning, traffic is pretty light. We had already put their Renegades on back at the barn and groomed them, so we just had to saddle up, and we were ready.

The trail starts out on some rocky single track that leads down into a really nice wash. We followed the wash for a while, then came out on a wider, more firmly packed double-track road, which was perfect for trotting. We came across a really large mud puddle across the trail - about 30 feet in diameter total, and knee-deep on Mimi. Mimi, of course, had to stop in the middle of the puddle and drink, drink, drink for about five minutes. That's my good endurance pony. Her drinking habits, especially how early on in a ride she's willing to drink, always impresses people.

Unfortunately, after slogging through the puddle, one of her front Renegade flipped off about five minutes down the trail. :( This is only the third time I've ever had a Renegade come off, and one of the other times was after crossing water. I think that there was some sand in them, and when it got wet, created sufficient weight to flip the boot off. That, and my Velcro straps are rather old - they're still on there from Man Against Horse back in October, and they got rained on/ muddied up there. A bit of a pain when I had to jump off and retrive it, but considering I've been using Renegades for a year and a half now, and this is only the third one I've ever had come off, I think that's doing really well. Especially when you consider that I once lost Easyboots six times during one 20 mile NATRC ride. And those were glued on.

Me retrieving my boot gave our group a good excuse to split up - Jim's horse Panama only likes limited company, and Jim wanted to ride a lot harder, faster, and farther than the rest of us, so he continued on while Dad, Cindy, and I went back down the road towards the river. We did some more good trotting where the footing was good and the road hadn't been too eaten up by ATV's - a lot of the roads around there are for off-road use, and they really chew them up. Lots of up-n-down moguls, which is where Mimi lost her boot - she sort of misstepped, trying to balance through the mogul, and I think she must have trod on the side of the boot.

Eventually the road wound down to a large sandwash that we followed along the most spectacular cliffs overhead. I wish I would have gotten more pictures at this point, but I had three hands full of very energetic pony. Dad and Cindy had been taking turns leading, and Dad was in the lead at this point. Beamer rediscovered his "big trot," most recently awoken at Land of the Sun (yeah, still working on that ride story) and again put in to use here. We followed the sand wash all the way down to the river, taking several intermittent breaks for a few minutes of walking to give them a breather.

The river is amazing. Normally, the Salt River runs at about eight cubic feet per second. Due to all of our recent rain, and the fact that the lakes were so full, they released some water a couple weeks ago into the river, and it was now running 2200 cf/s!!! The edge of the river was a good 20 feet higher up on the bank than normal.

While we were watering the horses, Mimi had her first encounter with kayaks! She wasn't quite sure what to think. At first, she was very spooked. Fortunately, I was off her at the time, standing next to her while she was drinking. She did her best Arab impression, with ears pricked, eyes bugged, nostrils flared, poised on her tiptoes to whirl around at second's notice. But then, when the strange floating thing started talking to her, she got curious. "What's a person doing floating on a large skewer in the middle of the river?" I imagined she was saying.

Eventually, she took a breath and decided they weren't going to have her for lunch. Fortunate, since another two of them pulled up to the bank about that time.

After watering at the river, we were only about two miles from the trailer, and Mimi and I lead the way home. There was a lot of up-and-down, so we just walked them in, but she had her pony power walk going, and was probably walking at least 4.5 mph. Beamer and Cindy's horse Harley had to really move to keep up.

The pictures don't do the mountians nearly the justice they deserve. The Superstition and Goldfield ranges are truly spectacular mountains that can't be properly captured on film.

Overall, we probably did about 15 miles, or slightly over, in about 3 hours, including our water break. Oh, and why "The Dirty Grey Horse Ride?" Because Mimi, Beamer, and Panama are all grey, and they all could qualify to be registered as pintos right now. If the pinto registry took "manure, mud, urine, and grass" as acceptable registry colors. :)

Today, Dad and I rode at the San Tans. We did our big 12-mile loop, a mix of walking and trotting. Dad tried the S-Hack on Beamer today (I finished rigging up my backup one to fit Beamer) and he did even better than the first time. He's definitely a hack horse, and Dad's going to try it at the second half of the ride at McDowell. Beamer still needs his "security blanket" snaffle at the start of the ride, where a bit more precision control, and a nice ability to one-rein stop is vital, but we figure once he settles down after the first few miles, he'd be perfect.

This weekend solidified the decision in my mind: we are going to try a 50 again. We're planning to go to the Valley of the Sun ride in McDowell Mountain Park at the end of the month. I figured if Mimi came out of this weekend - two back-to-back rides, one that was a lot of deep sand and a lot of trotting, and the other more hills and a mix of pace - and was still doing well, I was going to try the 50. She was still bright-eyed and bouncing at the end of today's ride - even spooking at the construction cones at the trailhead, which she has passed at least a dozen times in the last month. :)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

2-legged Fitness

Riding was a wash today...sorry, bad pun. But we did get totally rained out. We were grooming the horses at the barn, trying to decide whether or not to bracve the elements. The San Tans looked clear - for the moment. But there was a large cloud mass hovering over the Superstitions, slowly circling back around to us. And there was another cloud mass building up to the west, coming over from California. (Hmmm, gotta wonder if this was some kind of weather jinx from my court reporting mentor in San Diego to make me stay inside and practice, versus go out and ride my horse. :))

We were still willing to brave it...until the clouds overhead started hailing. Yeah, we don't do hail. Been there, done that...never again if I can help it. I'm a fair weather rider, I don't know how to function in temperatures less than 60*. So the ponies got a very thorough spa-day grooming, a pan of soaked beet pulp with salt to encourage extra drinking on a cold day (plus, my new secret ingredient: cinnamon!!!), and the day off work. They breathed sighs of relief when we left. :)

However, not content to go home and get underfoot of my mother, Dad and I headed out to drive around the Superstitions. My teasing suggestions to stop at the Renassaince Festival were ignored (Dad has the same feelings towards this as I do towards hail...once was enough!), and we continued on out to Queen Valley, which is this tiny little community tucked back in the mountains. We drove around there and looked at properties, then started heading back home.

The Peralta Trailhead turnoff was on the way home. I haven't been out to Peralta in about five or six years, and I've never actually hiked there, only been to the parking area. It's a wonderful hiking trail, but really too rough for horses, from what Dad has said. Well, there was no horse trailer in tow, the rain has temprarily quit, the skies were clear...I turned off.

What I hasn't remembered was the trailhead is back 7 miles on a washboard dirt road. Add to that the fact that it had rained very hard, and I had a rather interesting driving experience, especially coupled with the fact that the truck's back tires are rather in need of replacing. I turned on 4-Wheel Drive, and the back end was still fishtailing in the really slick mud. I kept looking for a spot to turn around, but all of the little turnout areas were soft, sink-to-your-axles mud. After getting halfway, I was determined to make it to the trailhead.

We finally made it (only took 25 minutes or so...) to one of the lower trailheads, the Lost Goldmine trailhead. Peralta is another 1/2 mile up the road, but this was good enough. Better, according to Dad, once we started down the trail. Lovely single track with very little rock (for the Superstitions), some gentle up and down, nice decomposed granite base. Perfect for hiking. Not too sure about would probably be okay, but dragging the trailer back that far would be a pain for a training ride.

We hiked about two miles out, then it started to sprinkle, and a rather ominous-looking storm front was moving directly at us. We opted to turn around at that point, since we knew the trail back to the truck was pretty much safe to get caught in the rain on. Sure enough, we did get caught about 1/4 mile away from the truck and got a little damp, but we both had fleecy sweatshirts that kept the rain off for that short time.

So a total of 4 miles, done in an hour. My calves are feeling it right now, they're just a bit tight. But it was absolutely gorgeous out there. Figures, the one day I leave my camera at home...the Superstitions were completely enshrouded in fog by the time we left. Magical, and just a bit eerie. At least if the ponies couldn't get out, we were able to, so we have more fitness to be able to get off and walk or run/shuffle next to them periodically throughout the ride.

Rain Dance

Well, so much for that anti-rain dance yesterday evening. It rained all night, and now it is dark, cloudy, and windy. I'm so glad we got a great ride in yesterday, because I'm not sure if we're going to go out today. I'm waiting for it to get lighter out and see if the clouds are breaking up or not. Rain, and possible thunderstorms, are predicted all day today.

But yesterday's ride was awesome. Sadly, no pictures, as I was fiddling with saddle packs again and didn't rig up something for my camera yet. We did the big, 12-mile loop down at the San Tans, and managed a very respectable (for us) 5mph pace. Might have been slightly faster than that, as we stopped for about 10 minutes or so for a potty break. Part of that includes hand walking for about a mile in the sand wash, too.

Beamer got to try out Mimi's S-Hack yesterday, and I've got a new convert to bitless now. Dad really liked riding with it, and Beamer was super-soft in his face. I knew he would be. Just the 15 minutes in the arena on Tuesday with him told me that. I'm glad he didn't prove me wrong.

Both ponies were feeling very good yesterday. Mimi was so happy to be out again. She bounced her way through the ride, trying to dash up the hills and breathe fire on Beamer's tail when he was trotting too slow. I've been letting her do a controlled trot on the up side of the numerous in-and-out ditches that make up our trails in an effort to be easier on her hocks and give her a little more momentum. How does she thank me? By trying to canter or sprint up the hills when I give her an inch of loose rein.

Methinks she didn't get the memo that she's turning 16 in May.

Based on her enthusiasm, and still consistently low heart rates (horses that are uncomfortable in their hocks don't trot along at 81bpm), we've made the decision to go for the 50 at McDowell. I really want to find out if she's still got "it," and doing a 50 is the best way to find out. I know she'd make it through a 25, but I think it would be too tempting for me to ride faster than would be ideal in a 25. If we do a 50, I know I'll ride a lot more conservative pace, which I think would be a lot better for her. I think a slow 50 would be a lot easier on her than a fast 25.

It's still dark out. It's almost 7a.m., and I don't see a hint of sunrise. That ride might not happen today. *grumble*

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rain, Rain, Stay Away

The weathermen don't know what they're talking about. They're predicting rain for this weekend - not an unheard of occurence, as we're coming up on February monsoon season. But looking out at the skies today, it's hard to believe there's a 60% chance of rain for tomorrow. It's currently in the low 70's, sunny, and with enough of a breeze blowing to make it feel about 10 degrees cooler.

That being said, I would dearly love for the rain to hold off until Monday. Another two days of this perfect weather this weekend would be ideal for riding. With the recent trail improvement in the San Tans, we can make the big, 12-mile loop a lot faster now that the trails are smoother and there's less really deep sand wash to navigate.

It would really be good to get the ponies out for longer rides both days this weekend, and again next week. And I really would like to get up to McDowell again sometime before the next ride there and ride more of the trail than the 15 miles we de-ribboned.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Feelin' Good

Well, that promised ride story still isn't done yet, mostly because I spent all weekend playing with the pony and getting wrapped up in riding her. I'm going to go out on a cautiously optimistic limb here and say that, tentatively, she's back. Based on her performance this weekend, and antics yesterday, she is Feelin' Good!

We rode at the San Tans both days this past weekend. Saturday, we did the big loop, about 12 miles, and were done, including about 20 minutes of potty/water/stop-and-look-at-boogeymen breaks, in three hours. For us, that's really good for a training ride. (Slug Riders 'R Us)

We finally got to see where the back trail rerouted...overall, not bad at all. The new trail is a bit wider, much smoother, flatter, on a higher elevation, and avoids about half a mile of really deep sandwash. The ponies approved, with the exception of the little trail-digging machine they had parked at the bottom of the trail in the sandwash. That got some eye-boggling.

Sunday was a shorter ride, about seven miles. We got hung up in the morning doing a family breakfast for Dad's birthday, so we didn't get out until about 2p.m. It was really quiet out - Superbowl day. Huh? Sit and watch football, or enjoy the beautiful weather outdoors with my pony? No contest! Even if it was my state's team playing. Um, go Cardinals? Even though they lost...big surprise there. (Yeah, that was sarcasm.)

Mimi was gleeful to be out this weekend. After being left behind for Wickenburg, she seems to think she needs to do everything to get back in my good graces, including draining her water bucket on training rides (two full buckets on Saturday!), not spooking at little twittering birds behind her, not reaching for more hay as I'm trying to bridle her, not assaulting and mauling her's like I have a new Angel Pony right now.

Yesterday, however, I think her halo slipped. :) She was full of herself when I went down to the barn to meet the farrier for their trims. I had some time before he showed up, so I rode both ponies. I tried Mimi's S-hack on Beamer, just to see what he's do...I think Dad has a hackamore horse on his hands. Beams was even softer in his face than with his snaffle. He still one-rein stops and flexes, and he backs up easier, too. The real test will be at speed and in a competitive setting. He was really good for me, especially because it's been over a year since I've ridden him. (Gah, really? It didn't feel like that yesterday.)

Mimi, on the other hand, was jsut full of piss & vinegar. She was shying at the new dirt pile o' death next door, staring suspiciously at the downed barrels in the corner of the arena that have been there for months, wanting to canter instead of power trot, and in general, doing everything she could to exasperate me but show me how good she was feeling.

Then after their trims, they got turned out in the big pasture. They both walked out to the halfway point in the arena, and then, for no apparent reason, took off. Mimi probably took offense to the scary new dirt pile and decided to show it the bottom of her hooves, and Beamer ran beause Mimi was running. They galloped out to the back of the pasture, ran a couple loops around the back half of the pasture, then finally settled down to graze.

Glad you're back, Pony! Now when's the next ride to take the edge off some of that energy?