Sunday, January 24, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today is my father's XXth birthday...he can enlighten anyone who asks what numbers are supposed to fill in those x's.  :)))

I couldn't ask for a better riding partner to spend the hours and miles with along the trail.  Thank you for following me into this crazy horse obsession, and for making me a better horseperson along the way.  Your open-mindedness and curiosity has broadened my horizons and taken me far outside of my original comfort zone...and for that, I'm eternally grateful.

And thank you:
  • for enabling my love of horses in the first place, when you first pointed out that little white mare being ridden in the arena as we were passing by...
  • for tolerating the pointed-toe kicks in the kidneys from an impatient little girl who didn't understand that you actually were bidding on that pony...
  • for being there through all the subsequent ups and downs of show life with a young rider and green pony
  • for doing all that being a Show Dad entailed...hauling the trailer, lifting saddles, giving me a leg up, making sure my number was straight, and taking literally hundred of thousands of horse show pictures
  • for taking me up on my "suggestion" to take riding lessons
  • for taking up the reins on your own horse and venturing into the world of trail riding
  • for convincing me that NATRC sounded like fun
  • for following me into endurance
  • for crewing for me at rides before you had an endurance horse
  • for being such a great ride partner
And, finally, to wrap things up, because I could never fully list everything I'm grateful to you for,
  • Thank you for being such a wonderful influence and role model in my life.  I'm a better person because of how you and Mom have raised me.  You've taught me to meet -- and exceed -- expectations, live up to my responsibilites, follow through on commitments, and live a Christian life that glorifies God.  Thank you for that, and so much more.
Here's to many more happy birthdays and trail miles apent together!

Friday, January 22, 2010

2009: A Year in Review

While it's very tempting to blow off 2009 as a horrifically crappy, overwhelming year, that just wouldn't be entirely true.  Yes, many aspects of my life were very overwhelming, and still continue to be so, hence my lack of posting in the latter months of the year.

While I might not have gotten to near the number of rides I would have liked, I did have a successful ride year.  4 rides, 4 completions, 175 miles.  3 50s, 1 25.  2 near-turtle finishes, 1 mid-pack, and 1 top ten (that weould be the 25).  3 rides for Mimi...all 50s, one ride on a friend's horse.  That includes finishing the notoriously difficult Man Against Horse, with ponies that were still bright-eyed and pulling at the finish.

These horses, and endurance rides, are my refuge, sanctuary, and therapy.  I would truly be lost without them, and all of my endurance friends.  I'm so grateful for the connections I've made...enduring friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.

So, then, to recap:

January: Mimi spent the latter part of 2008 cogitating on whether or not she really wanted to be an endurance horse, and therefore wasn't fit for Wickenburg.  We did pull ribbons after the Valley of the Sun 3 ride, but that was one of our few outings for the month.  I took friend Cindy Brown up on her offer to ride her horse Harley in the 25 at Wickenburg.  We had a fabulous ride, and even Top Tenned, coming in 9th.  I got along really well with Harley and enjoyed riding him.  School resumed again for me, after enjoying a five week break.

February: Mimi got her head (and hocks) aligned, and we got several really good training rides in, enough to feel comfortable going for the 50 at the Valley of the Sun 4 ride.  We finished, although she could have looked better when we got home...she was dehydrated from the unexpected heat, and a little bit crampy.  She recovered within an hour of getting home, and was bright-eyed the next day.

March: Lots of training rides, filled with spring-fever energy.

April: brought warm temperatures, snake sightings, and the opportunity to go crew at Tevis. 

May: meant more warm weather, and a good excuse to take the ponies down to the river and ride around the water.  Mimi turned 16, and we celebrated with a great training ride.  School recessed for a three-week period, then resumed after Memorial Day.

June: was hot, as is expected in the AZ summer, but we still did a lot of riding.  I took Mimi barefoot in the back for the first time of what would soon become an almost-every-ride occurence.  We took a weekend camping trip to Little Elden Springs with a few other endurance friends.  (I went to look for the link to this story, only to realize I never finished it.)

July: Tevis!!!  Spent lots of time talking to rider Lucy Trumbull about crew odds 'n' ends, and hoof boots, then hopped on a plane for a week of Tevis fun.  I never did do the full write-up (my computer ate it), but I do have the cliffnotes, and will someday produce a full write-up of my adventures.  The next-best things are the photo albums on Facebook: riding Foresthill to El Dorado Creek and back; Tevis; and the rest of the week.

August: was quiet, and hot.  I had a few weeks off school again, and spent the time hibernating.  T'was also my birthday this month, and I got new tights from Evelyn at Just for Horsin-Round.  I have two pairs, and they're fabulous...I'll be ordering more soon.

September: Didn't exist (according to my blog, at least...nothing worth reporting got blogged about.)

October: In a last-minute flurry of avtivity, we decided to go to Man Against Horse and try the 50 again.  We finished, and in fine form this time.  Both ponies looked fabulous at the end, and never lost that sparkle in their eyes.

November: Let's go gangbusters and do a ride two months in a row!  Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50 was a good ride, with another sparkly-eyed finish.  Two great rides like that in a row was a good confidence booster for me.  Thanksgiving, and the start of the holidays.

Decemeber: Mom and I took a trip back to New York while the ponies got a break.  School again let out for another 5-week break.  Christmas shopping was once again easy, as there were horse things Dad needed.  Let the new ride season begin.

Rain Check!

I think I really  understand and appreciate the term "rain check" now.  Having grown up and lived here in the desert all my life, I've never fully appreciated the full extent of a true, multiday storm system.  Sure, I know all about flash floods, and not driving your vehicle through more than a couple inches of running water.  That's pretty par for the course in Arizona monsoon season, although someone always has to test it.  ("No, no, my insert vehicle of choice here can handle it, it'll be fine.")

At the San Tans, the trails drain so quickly that, unless it's pouring rain at the very moment, it's nearly impossible to get "rained out" from riding.  And even on the few occasions we do, it's due to the aforementioned flash flooding of the washes, and not the actual trail conditions.

So to have Wickenburg cancelled for this weekend due to weather wasn't something I was really expecting.  Granted, it would be cold and wet, especially Friday, but the trails shouldn't have been a problem.  And they weren't.  It was the roads. 

Arizona infrastructure is coping very badly with the current weather conditions, so much that major highways have actually been temporarily shut down.  I didn't really grasp that notion until I pulled down AZCentral's Road Closures page and realized that there's almost no way to get into Wickenburg.  Good reason to cancel, if a) half your riders can't get out of their house and b) the other half can't get to the ride.

The ride has been rescheduled for February 6th.  Here's hoping for lots of sunshine, for us and our surrounding states.

I think I've gotten off lightly from this storm -- the worst we've had at my house was that Dad had to pump some excess water out of the fishpond to keep it from overflowing.  That, and there's a corner of the roof over the dressing room on the trailer that's been leaky, and it dribbled in one corner of the trailer.  Fortunately, I anticpated this, and there wasn't much actually in the corner to get wet.

More rain is predicted for this afternoon, but right now, it's blue skies above.  The wind is picking up again, so those grey clouds on the horizon could move in...eventually.  It's a good day to curl up with a good book or movie, a steaming cup of your hot beverage of choice, and a cookie.  Sounds like a good idea to me...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Double Standard

A Cautionary Warning: There is much generalization and use of the term "people" in the following post.  I'm not trying to say "everyone" does this, but rather, a broad spectrum of generalized behavior that I have noticed over the past several years.  This is not intended to be critical of anybody, but rather, my personal view and opinion on behaviors and attitudes.  Consider it, or take it worth a grain of salt.

Recently, there's been a flurry of discussion activity on Ridecamp about hoof boots.  Every winter, it seems, the topic of "shoes versus boots" gets dragged out.  Thus far this winter, people are confining themselves to boot...comparisons.

While I could probably write a dissertation based on my opinions of the topic, that wasn't really what stuck my fancy today.  What I wanted to touch on is the seeming "double standard" that exists for hoof boots.

Everyone seems to be concerned with finding the "perfect boot."  Their standards for that boot seem to be: easy to fit, doesn't rub, easy to put on, and never comes off.

All I have to say on that is, "When was the last time a horseshoe never came off?"  Please, someone, share with me that they've never, in their entire career of horse ownership, had a horse that has lost a shoe.  Pretty much impossible, right?  So why are people so critical of a hoof boot coming off? 

It seems to be an unfair soon as people hear a story of a boot coming off, they write it off as being "no good."  And yet, shod horses that pull shoes get pass after pass, get the shoe nailed back on, and nothing more is said.

As a hoof boot user, I've had my fair share of them come off, some of them in places never to be seen again.  I've calculated that I've got probably about $200 worth of hoof boots and hoof boot parts scattered across Arizona and southern California.  But did that mean boots were worthless?

No, it just meant that something wasn't working.  It took some experimentation, time, and willingness to think outside the box and my comfort zone, but I eventually found what works for Mimi.  One of the nice things about the popularity of the barefoot/hoofbooted movement taking off is the availability of different hoof boots on the market.  There's virtually something for almost anyone and any horse. 

(Note the virtually and almost: I do believe that it's entirely possible that boots might not work for every single horse out there.  Dad's first horse, a Foxtrotter mare, had an extremely exaggerated sliding action in her hind feet.  Boots gave her too much grip, and made her movement too abrupt and jarring on her joints and muscles.  It's possible, given time, and knowing what I know now about hoof trimming, that we could have worked more with and gradually adapted her to using boots.)

And incidently?  Mimi has lost at least one of every footwear I put on her.  Regular shoes, padded shoes, aluminum shoes, regular Easyboots, glued-on Easyboots, Epics, Bares, and Renegades.  No one thing out there is perfect.

I'm sure this is a topic that will never go away as long as there are metal shoes to be nailed on, and hoof boots to be fitted, and horse hooves that need protection.  And that means the double standard will likely live on, too.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wickenburg Prep

I'm watching the weather forecast for the coming week like a hawk.  The major Pacific storm system that is supposed to sweep California before venturing over here has me concerned. as rain is predicted all week.  (However, just talking to a friend in San Diego...he says he's not gotten a drop of rain all day, so we'll just have to see.)

I'm not content to just "let things be," and am moving ahead with ride prep as though we are going to get buckets of water dumped on us.  The hope in being prepared this way is, of course, that over-preparedness will result in not needing any of it.  *crosses fingers*  Fortunately, the worst of the rain is predicted for Tuesday-Thursday, and down to a 20% chance on Saturday.

I'm currently sitting at my desk, sniping and tying fringe on a piece of fleece to make myself another in-trailer blanket.  My blankets keep getting sacrificed to Mimi, so I finally ordered her a second Trail-Rite Cooling Blanket.  Now I have a whole pile of horsehair-covered fleece blankets to pull out of the trailer and launder, then I can use them for myself once again.  Hopefully her blanket arrives before Friday.  (Just got an email, it'll be here Thursday.)

I also ordered a new GPS from Amazon.  After much indecision and waffling, I finally ended up getting the Garmin eTrex Venture HC.  I like the fact that it has color, and the high-sensitivity receiver.  As much as I really liked the more expansive, expensive models, this has everything I need it for...basic mapping, and I'm really after mileage and speed calculations.

This'll be my third Garmin eTrex, and I really like them.  My first one was one of the first generation eTrex  (Venture, I was the one with the teal-colored casing) and it worked really well...until I slammed it in the Suburban door.  Word to the wise: don't ever balance your GPS in between the vehicle frame and the open door, then leave it there to acquire satellites, only to forget about it and close the door.

My second one was the eTrex Legend (blue casing...still an early generation, before the color or high-sensitivity receivers were an option).  I really liked it, until it inexplicably stopped working.  I can turn it on, it'll work for about five minutes, the nthe screen goes blank save for a vertical line of pixels running down the middle or off to the side.

I've been without a GPS now for the past year and a half, and I'm eager to ride with one again, especially at rides.  It's made me get very good at pacing and timing, to have to rely on watching the clock and knowing trail distance, and it helps to know Mimi's average speed for any given gait, but I'll be happy to have my technology back.  I rode with a friend's GPS at McDowell in November, as she wanted a map of the trails, and that made me realize how much I missed having one.  It should be here Wednesday.

New splint boots are ordered, and should be here today.  I'm waffling on using them...they're the same model as the ones I've been using, but my old ones are 13 years old.  Will the quality still be the same on the new ones, or might there be potential for rubs from an ill-placed seam?  The rain for the week, combined with Dad's work and my heading back to school, is curtailing the amount of riding I'll be able to do to test them, so I'm down to pre-riding Friday.  I'll try them then, and if all goes fine, use them for the ride, but toss the old boots in the crew box.

My new helmet also got here last week, a Tipperary Sportage Plus I bought from a friend who bought it, wore it once, didn't like the fit, and has kept it around since, so it's still brand new.  I love it, and even though I haven't had a chance to ride in it, I sat around on my computer with it on my head for an hour, and it felt great.

I've got my Goretex rain gear, as well as the two non-Goretex "waterproof" rain jackets.  Both ponies have two rump rugs...a fleece, and a canvas-topped fleece each.  Each pony has four (!) wicking-type sheets...Beamer has two fleeces, and two wool coolers, and Mimi has two fleeces (plus an extra if absolutely necessary) and a wool cooler.  They both have waterproof sheets (his moreso than hers) and Goretex blankets.

My right foot is still sore from yesterday's race, so I'm taking a very aggressive icing/Motrin treatment to try to get it in check before Friday.  I can see some bruising in the sore area, but no heat or swelling, so I'm guessing it's probably some kind of concussion-related pressure bruising. 

I'm kind of wishing I had ice boots for Mimi that I could steal and use, as I only have one good icepack, and two marginal ones, for myself.  Ice boots were on my "to buy" list, and I even thought about getting them for Wickenburg, but the chilly forecast and wet weather means I probably won't need to do much leg icing.  I thought about getting them for the 75, but I know we'll be finishing after dark, which, in February, is still pretty chilly, and I don't know if that'll chill them too much or not. 

I took a quick trip down to the barn this afternoon, between rain showers, and did a bit of work on the trailer.  Ponies got to go out in the big pasture and run while I did that, which made them very happy.  Overfed and underridden...that's them.  They're definitely ready for 50 miles.

PF Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Taking to the Streets
Or, An Endurance Rider’s Cross-Training

I have a new respect for my pony and her fitness level. I participated in – and completed – my first half marathon on Sunday, January 17th, the PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon here in Phoenix.

The decision to participate was all part of my bid to improve my fitness level this year, and I figured it would only benefit both me and Mimi in the long term. After all, she appreciates in when I get off during rides and walk/jog alongside her, so the more of that I can do, the better.

“Running” is a relative term for me. I’ve not been gifted with a natural runner’s physique, but I make do with what I have, and my idea of running consists of a lot of power-walking interspersed with shorter amounts of jogging.

The PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon is a 13.1-mile course that starts in downtown Phoenix and ends up in Tempe, right in the middle of one of the Arizona State University parking lots.

The half marathon started at 8:30 in the morning, with a wave start. The over 21,000 participants were broken down into 26 starting corrals, each released one at a time. I was in corral 23, and finally crossed the start line at about 9:00. I had 4 hours from that point in which to finish the 13.1 miles.

Within the first mile, my body began to question my sanity, but that was nothing new. It’s the same feeling I get within the first five miles of an endurance ride – when my lower back starts whining, and my feet go numb, and I wonder, “How can I stand 45 more miles of this?” It’s shortly after that point my brain and body tune each other out, and I can continue on without much thought to discomfort. The same thing happened here.

My pace was about 14 minutes for the first mile, and I was able to sustain that for pretty much the entire time. Right around the halfway mark, the course became very familiar, as it was part of the route I drive to/from school every day. This was good in that I knew where I was, and kind of what to expect. However, the feedback you get from driving a route is vastly different from running the same route.

For instance, academically, I knew there were a couple of slight grades between miles 9 and 11. Very slight, the kind you don’t even think about while driving. Well, from the perspective of being on foot, that “slight grade” on Van Buren Street between 44th Street and Loop 202 seemed like a major hill.

After passing mile 11, it was mostly downhill from there…past the Phoenix Zoo, across the Mill Avenue Bridge, onto Rio Salado Parkway (another uphill…ugh) and into ASU’s Lot 59…blessedly downhill. I was able to make up for dropping off the pace on the uphill parts (about an 18-minute mile) with being able to really stretch out on the downhill (about a 12-minute mile), and I had saved up enough energy to pick it up on the last ¼ mile in to the finish. The adrenaline-buzz from cheering spectators lining the finish line area helped, too. :)

I finished with a time of 3:28:50, coming in 19,451 out of 21,460 participants. Out of 13,486 female participants, I came in 11,839. My brain short-circuits at the idea of that many participants, and all that matters to me is that I finished.

My goal time, when asked on the registration form for start corral seeding purposes, was 3:30:00. I have a pretty good sense of my own personal pacing and physical abilities, but I was really happy to get that close to my goal time. It averaged out to a 3.999999 (okay, 4) mph pace, and about a 15-minute mile.

The last four miles, I had to really slog it out. The uphill climbs, for one, and then the last two miles, I could feel the effects of 11 miles of concussion on pavement starting to catch up. My hips were letting their displeasure be known, and the outside of the right foot was starting to whine. Interestingly enough, I felt the most sore while maintaining a walk, but when I’d pick up a jog, a lot of the aches would disappear.
Unfortunately, my lungs wouldn’t let me sustain a jog the rest of the way in, so I alternated jogging with walking, and for the last mile, the “finish is within my grasp” adrenaline kicked in and pulled me through.

Physically speaking, that was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. I think my first 50 with Mimi was actually easier, mostly because of the partner-bond with the pony…when things got tough, we could pull each other through. Out on the street, it was all on me, and I had to pull myself though it. I got really, really good at personal pep talks, as well as giving myself a good ***-kicking when necessary.

One thing that really helped was all the amazing energy at the race. It’s hard to have that many people together and not have energy. The spectator turnout was also amazing. So many complete strangers lining the streets of Phoenix, out there cheering for people that they don’t even know, encouraging us to keep going, telling us how great we look (lies… I think I looked like roadkill by about mile five), and how we’re going to make it.

The volunteers were also amazing. There were water/sports drink stops about every mile and a half, and the volunteers would be lined up on both sides of the street with cups of water and Cytomax, passing them off to runners as we’d come by, always with a smile and encouragement.

So, what does it take to get me through a half marathon, intake-wise? About 90 ounces of water, 40 ounces of Cytomax sports drink, 3 packs of GU, one pack of energy beans, 6 electrolyte caplets, and a whole hell of a lot of encouragement and personal drive. Thank goodness for porta-potties along the way, because I definitely stayed hydrated.

Would I do it again? Sitting here the day after, musing about my still-sore, visibly bruised right foot, and some sore lower back muscles, I’d still have to say, yes. Finishing the race was an incredible personal accomplishment for me, and I’m still enjoying the post-run satisfaction high the day after.

Interestingly enough, I’m actually less muscle-sore than after an endurance ride, and I think the riding really helped keep my muscles in shape for that kind of physical effort. It’s just the concussion aspect of running that the rest of my body is slightly less impressed with, but chalk that up to needing more long-distance conditioning.

The running process might be a bit arduous for me, and I definitely prefer trail running to street running, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, as well as a lot of personal “think time” where it’s just me and my thoughts. Call it therapy of a different sort, parallel to riding.

So there you have it. Cross-training in action…but this time around, it’s for the rider. Rock on.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Typically, when the term "cross-training" comes up, it's in the context of the horse.  Well, not this time.  This weekend, I'm embarking on some cross-training of my own.  I'm signed up to participate in the PF Chang's Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon here in Phoenix on Sunday.

My finish goal is the same as my endurance goals: just finish, even if I'm the turtle.  I'm not a runner by any stretch of the imagination, and even though I enjoy it, my DNA didn't get the message to gift me with the runner's physique, so my style of running is more of a "run 1/4 mile, walk 1/4 mile" type of thing.  Slow and steady, and hopefully that'll get me across the finish line within 4 hours.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50

A day late and a dollar short, or so the saying goes.  Well, this is more like six weeks late, and it's definitely not short...but here it is, as promised, my VotS Turkey Trot 50 ride story.  Enjoy, and as always, I love hearing your feedback.

Valley of the Sun Turkey Trot 50
November 21, 2009

In many parts of the country, November can mean snow flurries, cold rain, and generally unpleasant riding conditions. In the Southwest Region, and particularly in Arizona, November typically means bright sunshine, cold nights, and pleasantly warm days – perfect ride conditions.

A brief moment of background for those just coming in:

The players mentioned herein are myself, Ashley, and my father, Vern. Our mounts are, respectively, Skip Me Gold (“Mimi”) a 14hh, 16-year-old POA (Pony of the Americas) endurance pony mare, and Brahma PFF (“Beamer”) a 10-year-old Shagya Arabian gelding. Mimi and I are former show ring princesses…the pony who couldn’t cross a cavalletti without clunking, and the rider who was afraid to venture outside the enclosed arena. What a team…of what, I’m not quite sure. We spent seven years in the show ring, and the last seven embarking on various distance riding exploits.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

The VotS Turkey Trot offered two days of rides – a 50- or 75-miler on Saturday, and a 50-miler on Sunday. We chose to wrap up the season by doing the Saturday 50. One of the nice things about the VotS rides is that they’re held at McDowell Mountain Park, which is only about an hour’s drive from the barn. That means I have time in the morning to pack the coolers, finish packing the truck/trailer, and drive down to fetch ponies, all without having to get up at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. Very civilized.

Despite being so close to ridecamp, we still like to get there early. We left the barn around 10:00, late enough to avoid the worst of the traffic. We ended up detouring back to home to pick up a couple things inadvertently left off the packing list, and eventually pulled into ridecamp around 11:30…still one of the first dozen people to arrive.

Camp setup gets easier and easier as I continue to tweak the layout and arrangement of how I pack the truck and trailer, and we were set up within an hour. After that, we took the ponies for a walk, and grabbed our rider packets along the way. The vets had stepped out for a moment (apparently they have to eat lunch just like everyone else), so we used that time to stand the ponies in front of the water trough and convince them that pre-hydrating was a good idea.

The vets for the ride, Gene Nance and Rick Poteste, are both experienced, knowledgeable vets with the kind of miles and hours in the saddle I can only hope to some day achieve, and I was very happy to have them vetting the ride. They were both back in very short order, and we quickly vetted through, all As for both ponies.

We went back to the trailer, quickly tacked up, and headed out for a short stretch, stopping to socialize with several people along the way. Between this being the last ride of the season, as well as offering a 75-miler, a lot of people had shown up, and there were a lot of familiar faces milling about ridecamp. We eventually got out of camp and took a short ride up what has by now become the “infamous” sand wash of McDowell – a 2-mile-long stretch of deep sand that is the only way in and out of ridecamp, and that gets traversed four times over the course of a 50-mile ride (six times for the 75).

I suspected I might be in for an interested ride when I nearly got dumped on the way back after Mimi spooked, scooted, and tried to bolt at someone riding up behind us. *sigh* This, after falling off for the first time in several years the previous Sunday when she spooked at…a piece of cardboard next to the trail. Yeah, she’s fit, and definitely needed 50 miles to take the edge off. That’s the part nobody warns you about: there is a distinct correlation between their fitness level and their excitability level. My 16-year-old, formerly docile show pony was showing previous unheard of stores of energy, and seems to be regressing in age the more miles we get.

We did make it back to camp in one piece, and had plenty of time to untack the ponies and start throwing large amounts of food in front of their faces before the ride briefing and accompanying pizza dinner started. I used this time to further socialize, and to spend time touching base with Kirt and Gina Lander of Renegade Hoof Boots. We’ve been using the Renegades now for about four years, and in the past year, with Kirt’s guidance, have ventured into doing our own hoof trimming and maintenance.

As someone that is relatively new and self-admittedly inexperienced with trimming, it’s always nice to be able to get Kirt’s feedback on how we’re doing, something we’d be able to do later that evening.

Ride briefing did what it says on the tin, and was finished before the pizza even started to cool off. Then we headed back to the trailers to start packing things for the next day. There would be one check at the halfway point back in camp, which meant that I didn’t have to have the behemoth crew box packed, as everything would be there at the trailer. However, spending 25 miles out on a trail with very little by way of natural grazing (this is the desert in November, after all) meant that we needed to be carrying some pony sustenance in our saddle bags.

I had made up a batch of flax cookies, and divided up the pieces into Ziploc baggies…one bag for each of us for each loop. There were also the requisite carrot chunks, and Mimi’s pre-filled electrolyte syringes. Rider sustenance was also helpful, so I prepped the piles of energy bars, GU, and other little snacks that would suffice for out on trail.

In the meantime, I was also heating spaghetti for a second dinner with Kirt and Gina…more time to sit and catch up before doing some final hood work on the ponies. By the time everything was said and done for the evening, it was about 10:00 by the time I finally got to bed…a bit later than I prefer for a 4:30 wake-up.

The promised wake-up did indeed come at 4:30, and it was chilly enough inside the dressing room to encourage very quick dressing in several layers. Ponies got their breakfast while Dad and I got our breakfast coffee, and I engaged in my typical pre-ride ritual of seeing how long I can make one piece of toast last. The answer: ad infinitum, as I always end up throwing away at least the last ¼ of the piece when it’s time to go tack up.

Tacking up is the fastest part of our morning routine…boots on, splint boots on, saddle on, accoutrements (breastcollar, crupper), anything extra that needs to hang from the saddle, bridle, good to go. Last minute rider prep (no, don’t lock your keys in the dressing room, you’re going to need those to get back in…), and we were both in the saddle by 6:40, with plenty of time for a decent warm-up before the 7:00 ride start.

Ride start was a very long controlled start this time…the entire way up the 2-mile sand wash. It was very slow-going at times, but the enforced slow warm-up was nice, and I was supremely proud of how Mimi handled it. She can be fussy about being crowded , especially from behind, and has a tendency to lose her focus on the trail and worry about how close other horses might be. We were fortunate this time to be surrounded by experienced, courteous riders who gave us plenty of space and made navigating the most crowded part of the start much easier on all involved.

The trail was identical to February’s ride, and as I already when into extensive detail during that write-up, I’ll try to stick to the highlights this time around.

We made good time into the first water stop at around 10 miles. Took about 7 minutes there to let the ponies drink, for both of us to use the facilities (“hello, dense creosote bush…you’re just what I’ve been looking for”), e’lyte Mimi, and break out a couple flax cookies and some carrots. They munched gratefully – the flax cookies were a huge success.

Within a couple miles of the water trough, we got our space bubble for the ride, and would continue to maintain it for the rest of the time. From hereon in, we took turns leapfrogging who would lead and who would follow. There was another water stop at ~20 miles, and from there, it was another 5 miles back to camp, including the two miles back down the sand wash.

We met several 75-milers, as well as some of the Top Ten 50-milers, coming up the wash as we were heading in, but aside from having to watch for “oncoming traffic,” we were able to make good time heading back into camp. Back at camp, both ponies drank and pulsed down almost immediately. They both vetted through without a hitch, although I think I remember (six weeks later as I write this) a couple of Bs for each…most likely gut sounds for both, and gait and/or impulsion for the eggbeater pony.

The hold was for an hour, and both ponies set about to trying to rub the paint off the trailer from all their itching while I got lunch ready. The menu for the day: honey-barbeque roasted chicken lunchmeat slices, sliced fontina cheese, grapes, and bowls of the Never-ending Salad.

The one problem with back-at-camp checks: my comfortable chair is at the trailer, readily available for me to use, and I’m always reluctant to get up once I’m so comfortable. However, there were still things to do, so after indulging in 20 minutes of sitting and enjoying my lunch, I finished off the rest of the hold tasks: e’lyting both ponies, topping off water bottles and my Camelbak waist pack, restocking on pony and rider snacks, and reattaching the saddle accoutrements (removed for ease of pony “head to the ground to eat” maneuvers) – a compromise to full untacking, which is not my favorite thing unless absolutely necessary.

We were about five minutes late out of lunch, as the vet wanted to see Mimi trot under saddle before letting us go back out (Eggbeaters ‘R Us). Out of camp, and back into the sand wash, and the ponies’ lowest point of the day. Mimi decided this would be a good time to go potty…and procrastinate the inevitable of having to go up that *^#! wash again. Five minutes later, after dragging her feet and being peddled one step at a time, she finally found the perfect sandy spot and peed. Then the real fun began.

Both ponies had to be peddled, coaxed, encouraged, and nudged up the wash. Needless to say, this does not inspire rider confidence. Beamer hadn’t ate that well during lunch and he hadn’t had much to drink, either, causing some consternation on Dad’s part. We finally made it through the wash (we had given up on peddling partway through and were resigned to trudging) and onto solid trail, and lo and behold…lively ponies! They both shot out of that wash and offered up a springy, cheerful trot…*&#^ sandbaggers.

Almost immediately after getting on the trail, it crossed through a staging area with a large water trough. Mimi hustled over and drank, then Beamer made up for lost time. Thus fortified, we set off again, heading for the one significant hill climb of the whole ride. On the backside of the hill, we lost the breeze that had been keeping us cool, and thus lost much of our forward enthusiasm. Back to trudging.

We trudged up the hill, and finally reached the top of the ridgeline, where we were able to employ the “trot ten feet” strategy. It does work, and makes faster time than just straight walking. Mimi was still sandbagging, as she spooked at a bench on top of the ridge, nearly repeating the same move that had me on the ground the previous weekend.

Some of my sympathy vanished at this point, and for the next mile, insisted that we trot whenever it was feasible. Beamer, behind us at this point, had gone into “conserve mode,” obviously resigned to the fact that we actually were going to do the same trail from February, and he was in no hurry to get to those upcoming miles.

It was at this point I was feeling pretty swamped with overwhelming tiredness. I hadn’t slept well the previous night, waking up just about every hour, unable to get warm, and now it was catching up to me. I rummaged around for a caffeinated GU, which helped a bit, and at the water stop at the bottom of the hill, I hopped off and walked for a bit.

After the walking break, Dad and Beamer took the lead and set a smart pace, which helped wake all of us up, and once we got to the wider service road part of the trail, we broke things up by mixing in some stretches of cantering.

We saw a couple of the wild/semi-wild/loose ranch horses again…we’re 3/3 now for horse sightings while riding at McDowell.

The trail eventually looped back around to the second water stop from the first loop, where both ponies drank, then had to be peddled back out – a longer, more roundabout way around, versus the direct-to-camp way of loop one. Both ponies knew what was coming, and neither were thrilled, but they went.

It was seven miles back to camp at this point, and we could pretty much walk the whole way if needed. The ponies still had plenty left in the tanks, however, so we still stuck with the “trot when you can” tactic, breaking it up with stops every five minutes or so to let the ponies grab a clump of dry grass just off the trail. This grazing method really helped keep them perky on the way home, and probably contributed to keeping their gut sounds going. The flax cookies had been doled out earlier, and were gone by the last water stop, so it was nice to have something for them to munch, even if it was sparse.

It was nearing dusk by the time we left the last water stop, and we ended up riding the last five miles in the dark, which was actually great fun! I’ve ridden Mimi twice in the dark before, and Dad’s never had Beamer out in the dark. There was an almost-full moon, which helped, but no glowsticks. Fortunately, the five miles back in was all familiar trail, traversed earlier in the day.

The lack of light didn’t slow the ponies down one bit. One of my favorite parts of the ride was trotting through the final two miles of sand wash in the pitch black. Everything seems to be quieter and more muffled in the dark, and there’s this sense of isolation and peace, being out there almost entirely by yourself in the dark. I had one of those “moments” with Mimi at this point…the kind where I felt totally in sync with her, I knew I wasn’t interfering with her in any way, I couldn’t see but a foot in front of me, and I totally trusted her to find the trail and know the way home.

There were a couple of times where I attempted to direct her to what I thought was the trail, only to have her blow me off and keep going her own way. Curious…until I looked at where I had wanted to go and they were just dead-end little spurs off the main wash, or an odd gap in the bushes. Ah, so that’s why people say “just give them their head” when it comes to finding the trail in the dark. That served to further increase my confidence and trust in her as a smart trail pony.

We finished at about 6:15, and immediately vetted through. Beamer was back to all As, and Mimi had a couple of Bs – gut sounds and impulsion, if I remember correctly. Then we whisked them back to the trailer and tossed fleeces on them immediately, then untacked and unbooted them.

Another great ride in Renegades! I put them on in the morning, and only touched one of them at lunch to loop a tailpiece of Velcro back under its o-ring keeper. Her feet looked great – no rubs, and no twisting problems in the deep sand. While the vast majority of the trail is pretty smooth, there were some rocky sections I was glad to have the hoof protection, and I was super-glad to have the additional protection and shock absorption from the concussion of trotting on some pretty hard-packed trails. Beamer’s boots were great as well – on in the morning, off at the end, and I didn’t see Dad put one finger on them in between.

That wrapped up the ride season for us…150 miles for me and Mimi, 175 miles for Dad and Beamer…and all in Renegades.

We stayed overnight, despite home being so close, as both ponies are such good campers, and seeing it takes us a couple of hours to pack up, it would be close to 1:00 in the morning before we’d get home, so it was better all around to stay until the next day.

We eventually left camp Sunday…afternoon. Sunday morning was spent slowly packing up the trailer, and spending a good deal of time catching up with friends, comparing notes, and talking horses.

Good ride, friends, good ponies…a perfect way to wrap up the 2009 ride season. Onward to 2010!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Electrolyting and Syringing

A common complaint from people is that their endurance horses don't like being syringed.  Mimi herself has always been a basket case when it comes to being force-syringed after a staph infection early on in our time together meant that she had to be syringed nasty-tasting antibiotics several times a day.

So any kind of syringing has always been...interesting.  What usually happened when something like this:  Halter pony.  Stand in the middle of the stall.  Hold leaprope in right hand.  Hold syringe in left hand.  Pony would catch sight of syringe and start wildly flipping her head up and down.  Grab halter for greater control.  Head still flips up and down.  Wrench head around and attempt to jam syringe between clamped lips.  Miss.  Repeat previous three steps.  Maybe get syringe between lips, if lucky.  Otherwise, get on tongue, then squirt half thfe contents out in overeager anticipation.  Pony spits out anything on her tongue.  Refill syringe.  Repeat steps, this time jamming in the back of the throat, wondering the entire while if you're going to choke the pony or send the stuff into her lungs.  Get the residue of whatever didn't get all the way in the back of her mouth spit all over you in distain.  Unhalter furious pony, who then retreats to the back of her stall, or even better, the pasture, and then refuses to speak to me for the rest of the day.

Needless to say, this wasn't exactly an ideal situation for trying to do any kind of e'lyte syringing.  I'd tried all the tricks...syringe filled with applesauce, then syringe with nasty stuff, followed by a yummy applesauce...nope.  She got to the poiunt where she could smell the plain applesauce, and she'd happily take that, but as soon as I'd give her a different one, she's spazz again.  Syringe dipped in molasses?  No go.  Molasses and e'lytes mixed?  A little better. 

What about just mixing it in her food?  Well...Dad is fortunate in that Beamer seems to do quite well with minimal e’lyting, and he happily munches them down mixed into any of his sloppy goodie mixes. I’m not so lucky. Mimi’s a fussy princess when it comes to salty things, and flat-out refuses her food if there’s a hint of electrolytes in it.

Until recently.

I made a new discovery for an electrolyte buffer. I’ve been using a sugar substitute, blue agave syrup, in my coffee and tea, and recently discovered that it is low-glycemic, horse-safe, and actually used in a couple different kinds of horse treats. Mimi, being a pony, is already predisposed to being more sensitive to sugar, and is on a pretty strict, low-sugar diet (no cereal grains, no molasses, limited carrots), so I’ve always been somewhat leery of having to use a high-sugar base such as molasses to mix electrolytes for her. She never seemed particularly fond of it, either…hence the both of us ending up sticky, between her head-flipping syringe avoidance tactics, and then spitting out half of whatever did end up in her mouth.
Enter blue agave syrup. She loves it. She actually reaches for the syringe now.  She had gotten to the point that she didn't want to eat any of her sloppy goodie mixes because she was suspicious they might contain e'lytes.  So she wasn't getting e'lytes and she wasn't getting her moist food, post-training rides.  Something has to be done.

It's now been a month, and I've been mixing her electrolytes in a syringe with blue agave syrup and water.  After we get back from our rides, while I'm untacking, she stands in front of her hay bag and eats.  By the time I'm done, she's had about 15 minutes to munch and drink, thus providing a good base of food in her stomach.  I then give her the e'lyte mix via syringe...which she happily reaches for, and then she gets her pan of electrolyte-free goodies -- beet pulp, flax, and probiotic.

Something else that I've discovered works -- I've switched sides.  I now stand on her right side.  She seems more comfortable with that, as I think standing on the left side sends her brain back into vapor-lock and unpleasant flashbacks of forced syringing.  Unconventional, but at this point, I'll do whatever it takes to get her to take her e'lytes and eat her goodies.  I've always said she's a princess, and I don't mind catering to her whims.

For those curious: I use Perfect Balance electrolyte powder, one scoop in a 2 oz. syringe, about half an ounce agave syrup, and the rest with water, just over an ounce.  Mix it up, store it in the syringe.  You can mix it in a larger batch, like for multiple e'lyting along the trail at a ride (at which point, I use half the e'lytes and half the agave), but if you do that, mix the e'lytes and water in a sealable water and shake very well to dissolve.  The e'lytes take a while to dissolve.  Then add the agave to that mix, and shake to dissolve.  If you have a way to slightly warm the water, that works even better to dissolve everything.

For every endurance rider you ask, you're likely to get a different answer for e'lyting protocol, and favorite brands, and favorite buffer.  This is jsut the bare bones of something I've found that works for me and the pony, and only the tip of what I would consider to be my full e'lyting protocol, and it's likely I'll do a post in the future about that very subject.

A Pony Most Helpful

Mimi has a new trick.  She's decided that she enjoys "helping" me during the whole process involved with riding.  In the last couple of weeks, she has displayed two new methods of helping.

Two weeks ago, she "helped" me put away her Renegades.  Normally when I remove her boots, I toss them in the general direction of the dressing room door where I hang them after cleaning them up a bit.  On this particular day, I was feeling a bit lazy, and instead of tossing the boot to the door, I just dropped it in front of Mimi.  The top velcro captivator strap was still undone, so she grabbed the loose end, picked it up, and proceeded to toss it over to the door...exactly the way she had watched me do the same.

She looked very pleased with herself, even glancing over at me to see my reaction (jaw dropped, wondering where she came up with that).  She's always been a very oral pony...destructive when she was younger, but entertaining now.

This past weekend, she put her oral fixation to good use.  I had put her halter on, and was standing at her stall gate, waiting for Dad and Beamer to be ready.  Mimi was kind of impatient, poking at me, then poking at her gate, wanting to go.  Finally, she got fed up and took the leadrope from where it was draped over my arm, picked it up with her lips, and walked over to her gate.  I suspect if I had opened the gate, she would have gone over and jumped in the trailer on her own volition.

Now I'm kind of curious as to what the following weeks will bring.  Mimi, will you carry the crew box for me at rides?

Wickenburg: one and a half weeks and counting.  The already done list:
  • Entries sent in
  • ponies hooves are diligently rasped and should only need light tough-ups between then and now
  • trailer is scrubbed out and waiting for fresh shavings
  • AERC membership renewed
  • new splint boots ordered 
  • new helmet acquired 
  • Woolback pad vigorously brushed, fluffed, and field tested to determine suitability as a secondary pad.  Verdict: Success!  Three rides in a row, 40 cumulative miles, great contact marks and sweat patterns.  I love when something I already have around the house ends up working.
  • new Yankz! laces on both pairs of riding shoes
I love the first ride of the season, and the feeling of anticipation leading up to a new year and fresh season.  Y'know, the time when you say, "This is the year I'll do x."  And whether or not x happens, the potential for it is part of the excitement of starting a new season.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ringing in 2010

First off, I'd like to apologize to my faithful readers for being such an inconsistent blogger during the last couple months of 2009.  It's not for a lack of material to blog about, but rather a life set on "overwhelm" mode, coupled with multitudes of computer issues.

I have all sorts of good intentions to blog about a 2009 recap, and maybe get my VotS Turkey Trot story done while I'm still on winter break from school.

Short version of the 2009 recap: While it was an up-an-down year in many ways, I had a very good ride season.  I might not have gotten to near the number of rides I would have liked, but I was grateful to be able to attend the four rides I did, rack up 175 miles for the season, and have the opportunity to ride a differnt horse at one ride.

Every New Year's Day, my father and I have a tradition.  There is a saying, that whatever you do on New Year's Day, you will do for the rest of the year.  Five or six years ago, we applied this to the horses, and determined that if we spent New Year's on horseback, hopefully that would correlate to spending lots of time in the saddle during the course of the year.  It mostly works, in that I do spend a lot of time riding, but the correlation hasn't crossed over to spending a ton of time at endurance rides.  For it to be really effective, I guess I need to be attending a ride on new Year's Day, but I work with what I can get.

So, back to the tradition.  We ride at the San Tans in the morning, the ncome back to the trailhead for a potluck with other horsey friends.  Every year, we manage to add another person or two to the group.  I believe we had about a dozen people show up this year.  Friend Sheryl was the one who organized the start of this tradition five or six years ago, and still continues to be the driving force behind it.

This year, we had a substantial potluck, as both Sheryl and I properly cooked.  She made meatballs and wings, and I made chili.  Other people brought salad, chips, and brownies.  Just to brag a bit...I make good chili.  The fact that the large stockpot was reduced to only being a wuarter of the way full is testament to that, I think.  :)

I've been off of school since December 12, a five-week reprieve from what my life normally revolves around, and I've been using this time to get some extra conditioning on the ponies.  We've been able to go out three times a week, and do the big loops of 12-15 miles, averaging about 35 miles a week.  Most rides, we're getting an average speed of 5-6mph. 

The plan is to be able to up the speed at Wickenburg.  That ride was our first 50 ever, two years ago, and we completed with a ride time of 8:10.  I'd like to try to take an hour off that time.  We finished just after 5:00pm the last time, and I'd like to finish by 4:00 this year.  The reason for the increase in speed?  Preparation for 75 miles at Scottsdale's Dynamite Dash at the end of February.  More about that as we get closer to the ride.

In my mind, I've got all kinds of plans for 2010, but I'm being deliberately vague and noncommital at this point in an attempt to ward off the endurance gremlins and fly under their radar.  Specific plans will be unveiled as the months progress, but blanket goals for 2010 are pretty much getting to as many rides as I can afford (I'll be happy with a ride every couple months), and happy, sound horses.

And as a casual aside, 2010 Tevis Cup Ride applications are now available online.