Monday, March 2, 2009

Valley of the Sun 4

Ponies don’t know the meaning of the word “quit.” At least, it’s certainly not a part of Mimi’s dictionary. After taking several months off to take some weight off my shoulders and get some perspective, Mimi and I completed our second 50 at the Valley of the Sun 4 ride on February 28 at McDowell Mountain Park.

After getting pulled at 40 miles for being overtime at Man Against Horse, combined with her movement being “off” without being discernibly lame, we took a few months off. I was very busy with school, and a bit frustrated at not having completed two 50s in a row (a RO pull at Devil Dog in June, then the OT pull at MaH), and a bit ready for a break. Mimi needed a break, too.

Time off until the first of the year was what we both needed, and we hit the conditioning trail again. I wasn’t sure of her fitness and soundness levels enough to take her to Wickenburg -- I hadn’t done enough hard training rides on her to have a fair assessment. But a month later, her antics and good spirits told me she was ready -- and for more than a 25. Horses really do retain a good portion of their conditioning, even during time off, as long as they have enough turnout. We were going to sign up for the 50 at Valley of the Sun.

The week leading up to the ride was typically busy for me, and I ended up cramming the majority of my packing for the ride into Thursday, with the exception of a couple of hours in the morning for school. The weather report had been steadily warming up over the past weeks, and the ponies both had large amounts of winter fluff on them, despite gradually shedding. That meant they both got a fast clip job on their necks and flanks, then a bath.

Mimi hadn’t had a bath since October (I don’t like the cold water any more than she does) and was rather colorful. Her white flanks are still a striking, day-glow yellow color from her preference for sleeping where she goes to the bathroom. *long-suffering sigh from the white pony owner*

Thursday night was a late night getting to bed, trying to get everything packed up, and then an even earlier morning Friday morning in order to be up to McDowell Mountain Park by 8a.m. to help ribbon some of the trail. We got the ponies set up at the trailer, and they spent the morning stuffing their faces while Dad and I ribboned part of the trail off bikes. I’m not the bravest biker, and the section I ribboned wasn’t the most bike-friendly, which meant I walked a lot of it.

After ribboning, we went out for a short pre-ride, and to finish ribboning the two miles of sand wash that lead in and out of camp, a section I certainly wasn’t going to try to bike through. We flushed an owl out of the bushes near the top of the wash, less then 10 feet in front of Beamer’s nose. I wish I would have had my camera out, but as it was, my hands were full of ribbons.

Thanks to an early briefing, I was able to get to bed very early, and actually slept very well for a pre-ride night. The ponies got their breakfast -- alfalfa and carrots were the preferred options, but both deigned to nibble on about half of their beet pulp. The time seemed to really fly between waking and ride start, and before I knew it, we were walking up to the start and down into the wash for the first 25-mile loop. The ride would be two loops of 25 miles in length, with a one-hour vet check at camp between the two loops.

We walked for about 10 minutes, then picked up an easy trot. The sand wash lead up to one of the wide single-track trails that we turned south on and followed across the valley and gradually made our way up to one of the low ridges of the mountains -- the Pemberton Trail. The trail turned into a lovely single track that followed along the top of the ridge for a while, then dropped down onto a service road that took us to the first water stop of the morning.

Both ponies drank at the stop, then we went back out the same way until we hit the Pemberton Trail again. We followed the Pemberton for a while, then got off on another trail that lead to the next checkpoint and water stop. From there, it was maybe another five miles back to camp (two miles being the sand wash that was the only way in and out of camp) for our vet check and lunch.

Both ponies pulsed down to the required 60 within a minute of coming in, including time for taking a drink. We vetted them through -- all A’s for both -- then hustled back to the trailer for lunch. It was starting to warm up -- temperatures for the day were predicted to be in the mid 80’s -- and the shade, cool food, and the chance to sit were very welcome.

Lunch flew by, and we actually ended up leaving about 40 minutes late, as I had to do some emergency fiddling with my front Renegades. Fortunately, Kirt and Gina Lander were attending the ride, and Kirt was on hand to be able to do a quick refit. The Landers have been so wonderful to work with, and I love using the Renegades. They’ve been very low maintenance, and they are so easy to use. And I can’t stress enough how great Kirt and Gina are to work with. They’ve been on hand at nearly every ride I’ve been to in the past year, sizing and fitting boots, and checking on boots at vet stops. Their level of personal customer service is unparalleled, and is just one of the reasons I hold their product in such high regard.

The extra time was nice for the ponies, though, and gave them an extra chance to snooze. Mimi had a minor meltdown panic attack when I went to electrolyte her -- mental note: Make sure she’s not tied off in any way while e’lyting. No harm done, just a little bit of minor mental trauma on the part of the syringe-paranoid one. She’s very unimpressed with the whole applesauce-e’lyte mix, so I think I’m better off using the concentrated paste e’lytes in small doses. She doesn’t seem to take as much offense to those smaller syringes as she does the larger, clear ones for the applesauce mixes.

Then we were out on trail, up the wash…again. Both ponies kind of trudged out this time. I think they were both sulky about the wash, as this was the fifth time they had been through it -- out and back ribboning, and out and back for the first loop. We trudged about halfway up, letting them warm up, then starting trotting as soon as it got more shallow. They both perked up again once we hit the Pemberton Trail, although we turned the other way this time and headed north to the turnoff for the Scenic Trail, a single-track trail that climbed up the side of a mountain and traveled along the top of a ridge for several miles before dropping back down and reconnecting to the Pemberton Trail.

There was another water stop a little ways after, at the intersection of the Pemberton Trail and one of the park roads. Both ponies drank well, which was a relief as the afternoon had been steadily warming up. I made it through the first loop with two water bottles, and that was sufficient, but I put my Camelbak water pack on for the second loop, and I was certainly glad for it.

We continued on the Pemberton Trail for a while, and part of the section was a service road with footing good enough to canter, which was a nice break. Fortunately, this section of the park has a few more trees, so there were more shade patches along this trail. It was easy to get into a nice rhythm on this trail of trotting, broken up by short breaks of walking to give the ponies a breather, and to give our various protesting body parts a chance to rest.

About halfway through this section of the Pemberton, we came across one of the herds of loose horses that live in the park. Some are wild mustangs, some are loose ranch horses that have been turned out. It was really cool to see them grazing out there, although I didn’t get any pictures. Mimi was a little too interested in wanting to make friends, so we hustled through that area.

The Pemberton Trail turned down a wash that we followed for a few miles before coming out to the same second water stop as on the first loop. Both ponies really sulked when we turned and had to backtrack to pick up another trail -- one that headed away from camp. Both were sure we riders had lost our minds, and sulked down the trail for the next four miles or so.

I think this was the proverbial “wall” they hit, which I don’t think was bad at all. It resulted in a slouchy walk from Mimi (who earlier had been walking out at 5mph) and an incessant urge to stop and graze alongside the trail. The latter request we indulged in whenever we could find decent grass versus toxic weeds. Rule of thumb: If it grows well in the desert, it’s probably toxic. We got some good practice in the “trot when you can” principle -- I could coax about 50-100 feet of trot on smooth trail out of her, then we’d walk as soon as we hit a slight downhill grade or any rocks.

Fortunately, we soon turned onto the trail that would take us home -- a very gradual downhill, winding single track that was smooth and well groomed, meaning we could trot the majority of it, save for when my lower back, unimpressed with the idea of downhill trotting on an already downhill-built pony, needed a couple minute break. I hadn’t remembered riding this trail when we had trained at McDowell in the past, but Dad did, and so did Mimi. As soon as we turned onto it, she perked right up, and was happily trotting along.

She had one hilarious spook that involved her getting in touch with her quarter horse breeding and trying to bury her butt in the trail when she caught sight of a barrel cactus 10 feet off the trail and stopped fast. Fortunately, all she did was stop and do her best “bug-eyed, arch-necked Arabian” impression, which meant I didn’t end up with a mouthful of pony mane. It does make me feel good when they throw in playful spooks like that at the end of a ride, because it means they still have the energy to pay attention to their surroundings, and to bother to spook at something.

We connected back up with the Pemberton Trail (which makes one big loop around the entire park, and much of the trail involved riding from one section of it to another) and back up to the wash for the final time, down the last two miles of sand wash, and across the finish line. I think we finished around 5:30, and our goal had just been to finish before dark.

We took the ponies back to the trailer and untacked them, then vetted them out. Mimi got all A’s on everything except gait, where she got a B…the vet said it looked like she was slightly crampy in her right hind. I’m not sure whether it was that, or the fact she’s 16, and we’ve been battling fusing hocks for the last two years. I’m more inclined to believe the vet’s theory, though, as Dad had been travelling behind us for most of the second loop and said she was moving beautifully, and completely normal for her. Which is to say, she still has an eggbeater trot. Floaty, elastic Arabian we are not. But the sun was rapidly dropping, a breeze had picked up, and despite her fleece blanket, I’m guessing she got a little crampy and chilled.

Completion awards were chapsticks donated by Susan Favro from Healthy as a Horse, and our ride photographs. The photographer got a great action shot of Dad and Beamer in the morning, a good one of the two greys together in the morning, and a cute one of me and Mimi in the late morning. Dad and Beamer’s late morning one is amusing, as Beamer is giving the photographer the “evil eye.”

Given that McDowell is only an hour away from the barn, we chose to pack up and leave that evening. It takes us a couple hours to pack everything up, so the ponies got a chance to relax and eat. I was a little worried at this point, as Mimi hadn’t peed at all on the second loop. She finally peed once she got in the trailer, and it was darker yellow than I like to see it.

Continuing the saga, when we got back to the barn and turned them out in the arena to roll, Mimi rolled, but then got up, paced around a few minutes, then laid down on her side, back legs really stiff and looking very uncomfortable. She stayed that way for about 30 seconds, then got up. I lead her back to her stall, and walked her slowly around in her stall for a couple minutes. She looked stiff in her hind end, and very mopey. For such a tough pony on trail, she is very obvious, and kind of a wimp when it comes to discomforts.

After about 30 minutes, she seemed to relax, started whiffling up hay bits, then slurped up the rice bran water I poured over her grass hay, making sneering ugly-mare faces at Beamer all the while. This afternoon, she seemed totally back to normal, giving me one of her loud, high-pitched pony screeches as I walked (okay, lurched…my calves hate me right now) up the driveway. She’s definitely in better shape than I am.

Both of their legs look really good, and I’m especially impressed with how Mimi’s looked. She’s got permanent windpuffs from years of use, but I figured there would be a lot more fill and swelling after all of yesterday’s trotting. I was pleasantly surprised to see she had no more fill than after one of our moderate training rides. Beamer’s back was perfect, and Mimi’s was good except for some pressure around the stirrup bars. I’d been playing with some extra foam inserts in the front of my saddle to try to compensate for her downhill built and make it slightly more level for me, but I suspect that it might tip the saddle back a bit too much and put too much pressure on the stirrup bars and back half.

They both got e’lyted, and a pan of wet beet pulp, then I left them alone. I figured they would be sick of seeing us, but they were both cheerful and in good spirits. Me, I’m seriously crunchy feeling, and as I finish this off (Monday morning), I’m even more sore, and feel somewhat wiped out. First thought: How do people ride 100s? Second thought: Can we go down to Sonoita next weekend? :)


  1. Sounds like you had a great ride. I second that "crunchy feeling". I too am "lurching" around today!

    I know after my 65 on Saturday there was NO WAY I could have gone out for anoterh 35. Maybe if I had walked the entire thing (which my horse would not have done). My horse is so much more fit than I am. Maybe I'm not getting enough saddle time between rides? I have 2 horses so overriding my current endurance horse wouldn't be a problem.

    *sigh*. It's nice to hear someone else who's goal is to do 100's question how the heck it's done!

  2. Ash, I really enjoyed your ride story! Made me feel like I was right there. Love, Mom

  3. Congratulations! It's good to see you are out there riding again!

    Good luck at your next ride and thanks for helping with the trail markings :)

  4. Ash, McDowell Mt was a good ride.
    I got to enjoy it again through your engaging story and pics. Congrats to you and the tough little Go Pony.
    Love, Dad

  5. Hey there,

    I stumbled across your blog through some round-about wandering.

    But it sounds like you had a great ride!

    It's so true, ponies don't know what quit means! I love my poneh.

  6. Congratulations! I'm jealous you got to do a ride this time of year in such wonderful weather! Great story!