Saturday, December 31, 2011


Who here likes to make inebriated declarations of good intent New Year's resolutions?

I actually don't.

To be more specific: I set goals for the year, try to plan things in advance, and accept that fact that 75% of those plans will end up getting kicked to the curb through little fault of my own.

So while I'm not completely against the idea of resolutions in general -- hey, they obviously work for a lot of people -- I have a tendency to go way overboard in the expectations department.  I also might not be 100% in touch with reality some of the time.  So rather than creating a list of unrealistic resolutions that then leave me with an abject sense of failure when they don't happen, I've settled on the more vague "plans and goals" approach.

Or maybe I just don't like the idea of being held accountable, even by myself, to declarations made when I've stayed up past my bedtime.

But even without specific goals/plans/outlandish fantasies in mind at the moment, I'm looking forward to writing 2012.

(Okay, okay, so I've got a couple things in mind: Keep up on blogging.  I've gotten back into the habit of it again...Maintain it.  And this past fall, I cracked down on my own health and lifestyle.  Nothing drastic (I'll never manage to create a stir in diet-blog land with it), just taking a very sensible approach of watching my portions, eating a well-balanced diet, walking every day (2-4 miles), and some kind of resistance workout a couple times a week.  It's working, and I'm slowly shedding pounds and feeling good about my own fitness and health.  Keep at it.)

Superstition says that whatever you do on New Year's is what you'll spend the rest of the year doing.  Superstitious or not, it sounds like a good excuse to go ride.  :)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Let the Record Reflect

I love looking at ride records for both horses and riders.  They really tell an interesting story, whether you're looking to purchase a horse with some endurance miles (Was he raced from the get-go, or started slow and taught to be in touch with his brain?  Any pulls?  What kind?  What kind of ride does he seem to excel at?), or looking for bloodlines and/or close relations of a youngster (Please let him have even a tenth of the endurance talent as his mother/brother/second-cousin-twice-removed.).

The same goes for rider records as well: Did that bit of advice you got around the campfire come from someone with upteen-thousands of miles who probably knows what they're talking about, or an upstart flash-in-the-pan with a handful of raced LD miles to their name?

Too bad the records don't tell the whole story.

Let's use a very personal example: Me.  Honestly, if I looked myself up on AERC, I wouldn't be too impressed.

17 rides
13 completions (9/9 LDs, 4/8 Endurance)
Pulls: 3 Rider Option, 1 Overtime
5 different horses

Nothing to brag about, right?  There's a reason I don't sit around the campfire and offer too much endurance advice.  I might be experienced around horses in general, but I still consider myself very much an endurance newbie.

But who wants the inside story?  (For the sake of the rest of this post, I'll pretend somebody just raised their hand.)

To start: 17 rides in seven ride seasons?  Some people get that to that many rides in one season.  Lucky them.  I've had to work around around: full-time school, part-time job, and limited resources, meaning sticking to in-state rides.

LD record?  Nothing eyebrow-raising.  A couple of Top Tens in there on Mimi.  Full disclosure?  They were small rides.

Endurance...ouch.  In my defense, I turn to the pull codes.  Three Rider Option.  The story behind those? 1) I broke myself. 2) I broke myself. 3) I almost broke my horse but stopped before I did.  The story I tell myself to make me feel better is that I've never had a vet have to pull me...I exercise common sense and good judgment...the truth?  I'm a paranoid, slightly neurotic wimp without access to good pain meds.


I'll be the first to admit that I don't have a high pain tolerance.  My ankles were each responsible for a pull, and I've learned I can't ride with a sprained ankle.  Some people can.  But I always sort of sucked at the ride-without-stirrups thing and tend to rely pretty heavily on my legs for keeping me in the saddle and balanced.  But the bottom line is, I don't really feel like giving myself permanent damage for the sake of a hobby, something I'm supposed to be doing for fun.

Overtime pull?  Tough ride, bad weather, silly horses.  'Nuff said.

That last RO pull should really be a RO-Metabolic, but that was before they really started keeping track of the more specific RO pull codes.  And the vets couldn't find anything wrong.  But I know my pony, and she was at the "ADR" point -- Ain't Doin' Right.  If we had kept on going, I know she would have tied up.  We called it a day.

And the five different horses?  Only one of them is mine.  I have generous friends that need horses ridden.  I'm happy to accommodate.

So, to sum up: I'm a paranoid, uber-conservative rider who still has a pain threshold, riding an older, not-entirely-suited-for-endurance pony who has given me enough scares and traumas to make me even more paranoid and conservative.

What the ride record doesn't tell you is how many hours I've spent training and conditioning.  I believe it was Julie Suhr that said something to the effect of, "If you don't enjoy the training, you're in the wrong sport."  Well, if it weren't for the training, I wouldn't end up doing much riding!

I love the training me, that's where the most progress and bonding is done.  I'm resigned to the fact that, at rides, I might only have 75% -- at best -- of my horse's brain, and that I'm kind of just along for the ride sometimes.  But training rides?  Those are the blood, sweat and tears that go into the foundation of getting to the actual rides.  I wish I'd done a better job of keeping training records...I would love to know how many hours I've spent in the saddle and how many miles we've covered.

Moral of the story?  Just like you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't judge an endurance rider by their record.

At least, not entirely.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Tis the Season

Mimi has her own Santa hat.  On the years I 1) remember and 2) don't misplace it, I pull out the hat and take embarrassing pictures of the pony.  It's the sort of activity that reminds her of a pony's station in life: to be a little girl's dress-up toy.

She finds it less than amusing.

This year, I not only was able to find the hat, I remembered to take it down to the barn before Christmas.  Here's a few of today's antics and outtakes. I'm saving the "nice" one for Christmas.

It rained today. Funny, it rained last time I was down at the barn.
Mimi's over the rain.

For a sweet pony, she can pull the bitchiest mare faces.
Grouching at her stall-neighbor.

"Uh oh...I remember this..."

"Did I mention I hate you?"
Reward for tolerating five minutes of indigation: a warm beet pulp mash.
Stall-neighbor Ava wants to share.  Only thing Mimi shares is flying
hooves and teeth.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Bit of A Collection

I have a confession to make.

I collect bits.

I probably can't even count how many bits I've used/owned over the years.  Start between "a lot" and "a ton" and go from there.  It started with my show days and went from there.  I think I probably used seven or eight different Western bits over the years, starting with a snaffle and very quickly moving into all manner of ported/shanked leverage bits.  The joys of a young pony with no brakes and a young rider with no upper body strength.  Shortcuts R Us.  But I didn't know any different at the time.   I was still trying to figure out how to ride a young horse, let alone train one.

English was easier...very quickly moved into a kimberwick and stayed there for pretty much our entire show career.

And gymkhana quickly complicated things again.  Snaffle while I was still teaching her the patterns, then over to a mechanical hackamore when we started picking up the speed.  But of course it couldn't be that simple...maybe one style of mechanical hackamore works better than another?  And then on a whim, the week before our last show, I snagged an S-Hack while at the feed store.  I had done about a year of distance riding at that point, and had seen distance riders using them.  I figured I might eventually be able to use it.  The real whim came about at the show when I put it on Mimi (without any testing/pre-riding at all) and ran all of the games in it.  (And had some of the best runs ever.)

But distance riding really fed my bit obsession.

Mimi's always been a bit fussy.  She has a low palate and a tiny mouth, and spends half of her time evading the bit rather than working with it.  My trainer and I spent a lot of time swapping out bits, trying to find one she would work in.  Fortunately, I learned my bit collecting ways very well from my trainer, and she had an entire box of bits to raid.

Distance riding also expanded my horizons and really furthered my education.  For the first time, I was really examining the why of things, instead of accepting that something was "traditional and always done this way."  Bit function was one of those areas of education, and that exploration brought me to the Myler bits.

I love Myler bits.

Mimi tolerates them.

I've gradually gotten rid of all of my other bits in favor of just keeping the Myler ones.  I really appreciate their form and function and how they're designed to work with the horse.  I feel like I end up with more of a connection and softer feel of the horse's mouth.

(Not a spokesperson/representative/paid mouthpiece for Myler.  I just really like the product.)

And irony of ironies?

I barely use any of the bits I have.

As mentioned, Mimi really doesn't like bits.  She tolerates the Myler ones.  But she prefers to go bitless.  Remember that S-Hack I mentioned earlier?  Yep.  That's her preferred headgear of choice.

It sort of looks like a jumble of purple spaghetti, but that's Mimi's trail bridle.  Zilco Deluxe Endurance Halter/Bridle with the Wind Rider Aluminum S-Hack and Hought Beta-Biothane Noseband.

I really like the flatter beta nosebands that are out there now...much easier on their faces than the stiff rope-style nosebands.  I've seen the rope-style used on horses that pull, and they eventually develop a bump on their nose from rubbing/pressure. Several layers of Vetwrap is supposed to combat this...

My major caveat on the hack: I prefer to use it on a horse that's already well-schooled in giving to pressure and going along nicely in a bit.  Mimi responds really well to it, and I think a lot of that is due in part to the fact she's just happy it's not a bit, and therefore will cheerfully obey without fuss.

It still took me a couple of years of doing NATRC to work up the nerve to try it on her at an actual ride.  She did great when I did finally use it, but then right about that time I started getting involved in endurance, and the idea of the faster pace and more race-like environment had me scrambling back to my comfort zone of a bit for our first year of endurance.  October 2007, I used the hack on her at a ride, and haven't gone back to a bit since, except for schooling.

My preferred set-ups for schooling at the moment.  Myler Kimberwick with Comfort Snaffle mouthpiece (MB02).  It's considered a "Level One" (mild, typically used for intro level) mouthpiece.  I like that it acts very much like a double-jointed snaffle, but it has less "play" in it and it's less work for the horse to hold it in their mouth.

I pulled off the regular kimberwick curb chain and replaced it with a biothane curb chain, because 1) the constant jingling from curb chains annoys me and 2) I'm lazy and hate having to always fiddle with the on/off of a curb chain.  I like the ability to switch between the curb and snaffle setting on a kimberwick.  When I was competing with this bit, I'd often start with the reins clipped to the curb setting, then switch to the snaffle setting after she settled down and quit pulling.

My only grumble is that they only stock the kimberwick in 5" sizes.  Myler bits tend to run just a touch on the large side anyway, so 5" is really too big for pony's pea-head.  They do custom orders , but I use a bit so little now that it hardly seems worth it.

Exhibit B is my "cowgirl" set-up.  Myler Western Dee Snaffle with Sweet Iron Bristol Roller (MB11).  Also a Level One bit.  It's basically a "dog-bone" double jointed with a little spinning copper roller around the middle of it.  Mimi works well in it, mostly because I think she likes the copper and sweet iron.  She tends to drool and slobber after a while because she's so busy working the spinning mouthpiece.  Not a good bit on days when we're working on "quiet mouth."  Rides "looser" than the comfort snaffle because the joints on the snaffle have a lot of play between them.  Not as good in the "subtle communication" department.  But it's a pretty bit that appeals to my inner cowgirl.  (Me, shallow?!?)

And then I've got several "homeless" bits...ones that live in my drawer of extra tack, ones that are either similar to something I'm already using, or have been tried and discarded as absolutely unsuitable by the Pony Committee of One.

Round up the usual suspects. Clockwise from upper left:
Myler Western D w/ Hooks, Mullen Triple Barrel MB32-3
Jumping Hackamore
Myler Loose Ring French Link MB10
Myler Full Cheek Twisted Comfort Snaffle MB01T
I've used all of these for training and rides (except the jumping hack...haven't done a ride with that yet, want to replace the noseband with one of the beta ones) at some point.  The Western D was a good ride bit and I used that one several times, but the flat mullen mouthpiece made eating more difficult.  A like something with a little more "lift" in the mouthpiece and more room for the tongue.  The Loose Ring Snaffle is kind of a joke...I have more ride pics of Mimi's head almost vertical as she gleefully ignored my requests to slow down.  And the full cheek snaffle is relegated to used as a training bit under strictly controlled circumstances only.  Those full cheeks, while wonderful for teaching a young horse concepts like turning and steering, really suck when they get caught on various the cheekpiece of the bridle, or your belt, or the water trough...ask me how I know this.  ;)

And of course, I have a couple other bitless rigs floating around as well.  This one's a vosal...mechanical interpretation of the old-time rawhide bosals.  I'm on the fence about this one.  Definitely a lack of fine-tune control.  No side-to-side lateral control whatsoever.  I still keep it around, though.

Not pictured is a traditional sidepull.  Well, the braided nylon variety of traditional.  It lives down at the barn as my "backup" headgear, but I rarely use it other than for aimlessly wandering around the arena for a few minutes.  Requires way too much force to get Mimi, in a strong-and-opinionated mood, to listen to it.  But I keep it around because it'll probably be a good young horse training tool in teaching them to give to pressure.  But Mimi needs a little more authority in the form of the curb chain and leverage of the S-Hack.

And I have, of course, the rejects.  Those aren't pictured, since they got sent on their way a while back.  Aside from some of the show bits, I've gotten rid of comparatively few bits and/or headgear that I've used for distance.  The ones that stick in my mind are:

- Myler Combo Bit with triple barrel mullen mouthpiece.  I didn't care for this bit at all.  It was too fussy to mess with, harder to use with a halter-bridle on pea-headed ponies, and it just seemed like it was too much at one time.  Mimi hated it and fussed a ton with it on.  Down the road it went.

- Myler Kimberwick with Forward Tilt Ported Barrel (MB36).  I liked the comfort snaffle mouthpiece better. This was one of their Level 2-3 bits, and it was a lot of bit.  It was great for the arena, but I tend to have "controlling hands" when out on trail, and prefer to ride with a mouthpiece that is a bit lighter and doesn't give them so many signals at once.  Plus, I don't think Mimi's tiny mouth accommodated the more forward set of this particular mouthpiece.  Didn't see the sense in leaving it around, so...sometimes I wish I'd held onto it, jsut in case I need it again.

- Dr. Cook's Bitless Bridle.  As far as bitless goes, not my favorite option.  Used it on the latter half of a NATRC ride and spent that seven-or-so-mile loop feeling like I was getting the proverbial middle ringer from the pony as she gleefully barged through it.  Nice.  Also didn't like the fact that it was tough to get it to release the pressure once it was tight.  It found a new home pretty quickly.

To a lesser degree, I passed some of the bit interest along to Dad.  His horses have been less complicated.  Lucky him.  His Foxtrotter mare Kelly came to us with a good old Tom Thumb snaffle and a habit of head-tossing.  Gee, wonder why?  We quickly swapped her over to a Myler short shank comfort snaffle and the head tossing really settled down, then several years later, put her in the same Myler kimberwick as Mimi.  She really loved that bit, and when she went to her new home, we sent the bit with her in an effort to keep her happy and encourage the new owners to keep using said bit.

Beamer was even simpler...Myler English Dee snaffle with French Link mouthpiece (after schooling him in my Loose Ring snaffle...but the English D doesn't have the same "pull through the mouth" potential as the smaller-ring cheekpieces, and therefore doesn't need a curb strap less thing to fiddle with) for several years, and then transitioned him into an S-Hack.  Sent both of those along with him, since he works well in both, but prefers the S-Hack.  (Anything that makes eating easier...and it's less work, not having to carry a bit.)

And I have no doubt I'll still keep collecting as I eventually expand the herd, since I'm big on each horse having their own bit.  You might say I'm a bit obsessed.  ;)

Monday, December 12, 2011

When I Don't Ride...

...I cook.  In between all the other necessary tasks of life.  Like sleeping.

I love to cook.  And I've probably explained over a dozen times why I don't want to make a career out of it: It's something I really enjoy doing.  The kitchen is one of my happy places.  I don't want to ruin that by having it become something I have to do.  Maybe that's weird -- after all, isn't the pinnacle of job searching finding something you actually like to do and then get paid for it?  (Says the perpetually self-employed, jack-of-all-trades freelancer.)

But I digress.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah...I love to cook.

We've been having a colder and wetter earlier than usual winter this year in Arizona, which has sent me scuttling into the kitchen for warmth and sustenance.  Today's offering?  Red Velvet Hot Cocoa.  I love all things red velvet, and even have a pancake adaptation.  So this ended up being right up my alley.  I've already been making homemade hot cocoa, so it was easy enough to adapt the basic recipe and turn out this delightful treat.

(No pictures,, I'm a bad food photographer.  Two, my camera and computer are temporarily not speaking to one another.)

So I'm sort of a bad person to get recipes approach to cooking is very much that of an inexact art versus measured science.  (Except baking.  I still measure when baking.  Otherwise, I subscribe to the "pinch of this, touch of that" method.)  So I tried to guesstimate on amounts when recreating this recipe.  Adjust the agave to your preference...I don't like my cocoa super-sweet.

Red Velvet Hot Cocoa
(per serving)
3/4 c milk
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T blue agave syrup
red food color
heavy cream (less than 1/4 c)
1 T cream cheese

Heat the milk in a saucepan on the stove. While it's heating, mix the cocoa powder and agave together until it forms a chocolate syrup. May need to add a touch of water, or more agave to taste. Add food color to get desired shade of red. Stir into milk and keep heating until steaming. As it's heating, whip the cream cheese into the heavy cream, along with a drizzle of agave. Keep whipping (or use electric mixer) until you get whipped cream. Pour chocolate mix into a mug, top with the whipped cream -- the cream cheese gives it the "cream cheese frosting" effect.

It's a fabulous "special occasion" drink.  Rather rich and I certainly couldn't drink it frequently.  But it's the kind of recipe that would lend itself well to to being a holiday tradition sort of drink.  Red Velvet Cocoa for Christmas Eve, anyone?

I'm going to start posting a few recipes here and there, especially things that I've found work really well at rides, either as pre-ride dinner or on-trail food.  I can't survive on the Gu-and-Gatorade ride diet, so if you're looking for real food idea, check back here!

the weather outside is frightful

So maybe "Let It Snow" is an exaggeration here in the desert (unless you were in Cave Creek/North Scottsdale last Monday when enough snow fell to turn the ground white for a short time), but we do occasionally have our own winter weather in the form of rain.

Today is one of those days.  It started about 7ish this morning, and five hours later, it's still coming down.  Not a torrential downpour, but a steady, consistent rain.  It's really a lovely change of pace, and it really makes it feel a lot like winter for me.

It's also the kind of weather that makes me unashamed to pull the "wimp" card and be relieved I don't have to be out riding in it, making sure I get my conditioning miles.  Cowgirl up?  Nah, pass me another cup of hot cocoa and a fleece throw.

Mimi certainly isn't begging to be out in it, either.  She really hates this kind of weather -- both times she tied up, it was in cold, wet, rainy weather.  I sometimes wonder if it was deliberate...

(Yes, I know horses can't deliberately tie up as a way of getting out of working in weather they hate.  But as clever as that pony is, it makes one pause and speculate...)

So on went a hat, waterproof boots, and something heavier and more weatherproof than a sweatshirt, and out I went to brave the elements for a trip to the barn.  Not only did I need to drop off Mimi's supplements for the week, it was a good excuse to spoil her a little bit with a warm beet pulp mash.  Must encourage drinking in the cold weather.  And, yes, I like to spoil my pony.  Beet pulp, ground flax, a touch of oat bran, a scoop of e'lytes, a drizzle of agave syrup, and chopped up apple and carrots.  Mix together with hot water, and by the time I got down to the barn, it had cooled to a comfortably edible temperature.

She was still licking her lips when I left the barn.

Days like this make me glad for large covered stalls.  I think it's also the rare occasion Mimi doesn't mind being in a stall instead of braving the elements.  She, too, knows when to pull the "wimpy show pony" card.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


It's easy to be thankful when times are good.  The true test comes during the rough times.  For me, it's learning to see through those rough times and find the good out of some less-than-joyous situations.

(Isn't she diplomatic tonight?  Blame it on the post-food coma and a couple glasses of wine.)

- Going through the past year or so has brought my parents and I even closer together.  I've always had a good relationship with them, and we've really banded together in mutual support to solider through. I consider them to be some of my best friends.

- The friends that have held me up and held me together.  I have whined, bitched, moaned, and cried on shoulders.  And I've laughed, schemed, plotted, drank and giggled.  Friends are a support system, a network  I can count on and include as part of my family.

- Cute little fuzzy white pony ears that perk up when I walk out to the pasture, and the even cuter little fuzzy white pony face they're attached to.  We've shared 15 years together.  God willing, we'll share many more.

- Good music, good food.  The chance to indulge my interest in both.  Music's my happy place, the kitchen is my non-horsey sanctuary.

- Hopes and dreams.  The ability to dream and think beyond the present gives me hope..."This, too, shall pass."

A Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Endurance 101 Recommendation

Curious about endurance?  Aarene over at Haiku Farm is doing a series of posts introducing endurance riding and covering the elements of a ride, starting with this post.  She writes really entertaining posts that are also very informative.

It's also been a good refresher course for me to go through and read these posts, preparing for the eventual day when life circumstances allow me to bring a new horse into this sport again.  When I got started in this sport, it wasn't that I was completely unaware -- I had been doing several years of NATRC at that point -- but neither did I know everything that was expected, or even what constituted a "typical" endurance ride, since the only endurance ride I had been to at that point was Tevis.  Not normal.

So I asked a few questions, did some observing, and mostly did what the person in front of me was doing and hoped they were correct.  It wasn't a complete train wreck, but that first ride was a real eye-opener, and I'm definitely glad I got the early learning curve out of the way on a seasoned, (mostly) forgiving pony.

There is so much that goes in to training a good endurance horse, and this refresher course has been a good reminder for me (not known for my patience) of why it is so important to take the time to put that base on them -- not just conditioning, but training.  Some extra time taken in the beginning saves time in the long run, and hopefully results in less retraining issues later on down the road.

(Someone remind me of this post on that "eventual day" when I'm all overly gung-ho to get whatever new equine is in my life out on trail and get competing again.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Endurance Up

"Cowboy up."

In my case, cowgirl up.

It's a common phrase, especially out here in the West, and it's a succinct way of telling someone to shut up, stop whining, grow a pair, et cetera.  No crybabies allowed.  If you're gonna run with the big dogs...

You get the idea.

I came into endurance already somewhat familiar with this concept.  Despite the fact that versatility is the hallmark of the POA, and the best way to describe what we did was "Everything," there was a very strong Western influence to the shows, and the whole POA lifestyle.  Wimps and crybabies weren't tolerated.  I was a very somewhat nervous fearful cautious rider as I was growing up (Who am I kidding?  I still am...) and as such, didn't embrace activities such as jumping and gymkhana with quite the same reckless abandon as some of my fellow riding cohorts.

And yeah, I took the accompanying ridicule with (mostly) good humor.  After all, I was training a young horse.  I didn't want Mimi to learn "gymkhana race brain" and end up being one of those ponies that had to be backed into the gaming arena because they were so hyped up.

"Tough" doesn't have to equate to "stupid."

Sometimes, being tough means making the hard decisions, the responsible decisions, and being the stronger person.  And it's a damn good life skill to have out on the endurance trail.

On the surface, endurance looks like a sport of "only the toughest survive."  And that's true.  But what's your definition of tough?  50 miles over rugged terrain?  100 miles over any terrain?  The rider that rides hard and fast enough to Top Ten?  Or the rider that is out for the full 12 hours of allowed time?  Surely the natural athlete that eats up the miles effortlessly is one tough horse?  But what about the plucky little horse who is all heart that gives their all because they love what they're doing?

(Incidentally, that last one would be Mimi.)

It takes all kinds of tough.

Some riders can mile after mile, day after day, never appearing to show any kind of discomfort.  For others, they are aided by pharmaceutical means and support wraps.  But they are out there.

No doubt, endurance cultivates "tough."  It takes not only physical strength, but mental fortitude to make it through an endurance ride.  There aren't too many people out there that don't hit a wall at some point during the ride, and you gotta suck it up and forge ahead.  It's easy to get discouraged when the boring part of the trail seems to go on forever.  There may be a scary section of trail, but you gotta gather your courage, trust your horse, and just do it, because it's the only way to go.

We (and Alaskan fishermen) keep the foul-weather gear companies in business.  Weather is seen as a poor excuse to sit out the day.  (After all the wet rides I've done, I beg to differ on this one.  Cold, wet rides just suck, says the desert rat.)

Like I said, endurance riders are tough.  But there's another side to that as well...

"Tough" all depends on the given circumstances of any situation.  Listening to the campfire horror stories, one might get the impression that endurance is really a competition of "Who can be the most insane?" when riders start pulling out stories of various injuries they've ridden with/through.  Broken ribs, broken arms, concussions, kicked, stomped, battered, bruised.

I hear that and I think, "I'm a wimp."

My first 50 I ever tried, I pulled halfway through because the saddle I was riding had tweaked and pulled my ankle into such an unnatural position that it ended up spraining it.  I couldn't put any weight on it in the stirrup, and couldn't go stirrup-less on the side because the loose stirrup flopping on the horse's side kept spooking him.

I clung to the guilt of that ride for a long time.  I felt like a failure as an endurance rider...I should have been tougher.  I should have tried to finish.  All the other "real" endurance riders are going to look down on me because I wimped out over a sprained ankle.  If "x" can get through a ride with whatever-body-part-broken, I should have been able to disregard a measly ankle sprain.

That's where "tough" can turn around and bite you.  What did I say earlier about "tough" doesn't have to mean "stupid"?

Okay, I get it...we're all out to prove how tough we are based on a collective lack of IQ?

Because if you sit back and really look at the big picture, who is that kind of tough actually helping?

Your ego, yes.

More campfire stories.

The local orthopedic surgeon knowing you on a first-name basis.

After that ride, I too got caught up in the "tough" competition.  The following weekend, I took Mimi to a NATRC ride, still sporting the sprained ankle.  Hey, it's my own pony, I can ride her without stirrups if I need to.

You're going to ride two days on a still-sprained ankle?  A NATRC ride, where you're judged on horsemanship, including evenness?  What were you thinking?

Outside forces intervened, and Mimi had a weather-related tie-up only a few miles into the first day.

Did I learn my lesson?  Clearly not...

A month later, Mimi and I had an "incident" that involved a javalina, a sand wash, and a tree.  Lesson learned?  The pony fits under a low-hanging palo verde tree.  I don't.  End result?  A mild concussion and sprained/bruised hand/wrist.

A week later, we were out in California at another NATRC ride.  I had a wrapped wrist and was pretty much limited to riding/mounting one-handed.  That worked well.  Mimi checked out of that ride back sore, a first for a saddle set-up that had otherwise been working for her for the past two years.

Lesson still didn't stick, because when I sprained my other ankle stepping/falling out of the back of my horse trailer, my first thought was, "Ah, redemption!  I can make up for the other ankle incident."

You may all collectively sigh and shake your heads.

Needless to say, that didn't go well.  It's one thing to try to work through an injury if it happens while out on trail, but to deliberately start a ride that way is just asking for trouble.  And trouble I got.  That weekend wasn't one of my finer, since I was uncomfortable, and it made me short-tempered and susceptible to several emotional breakdowns.  We pulled at the first vet check.

Did I finally learn my lesson?  I'd have to say, "Yes."

This past New Years, I was given a chance to join some friends at the Resolution Ride up in Scottsdale (ride story to eventually come).  It was a three-day ride, and the plan was to try to ride a couple of 25s, since the horse I was riding was young, and I hadn't done a 50 in over a year.

The day before the ride, I started getting the suspicious sore throat that heralds one of the lovely 24-bug-that-morphs-into-a-cold things I tend to get.  I gobbled cough drops, tea, Airborne...anything to try to stave off the inevitable.

It didn't work.

By that afternoon, I was sicker than a dog, and miserable.  None of this was made better by the fact a torrential storm had moved in and was dumping gallons of water from the sky.  Since I'm not exactly well-versed in the art of throwing up off the back of a horse, and would be riding a youngster that I'd never even sat on before, I made the decision to sit out the first day.  (Hey, she's learning!)

I took it easy that first day, and woke up feeling pretty much normal by day two.  The bug had morphed into a head cold, but the worst of that was just a stuffy nose, only slightly worse than the year-round allergies I already live with.

Saddle up, I'm riding!

I had a great ride on a really fun horse that day, and was presented with the opportunity to go out on day three and do the 50.  And I passed.

Why?  Because I know myself.  I wasn't in shape to do a 50, especially on the heels of already having ridden a day.  I could have done a 50 by itself and had I been sans flu/cold.  I knew my limits, and as much fun as it would have been...the girl finally learned her lesson.  It wouldn't have been fair to the horse to tote my out-of-shape carcass (which is what I would have been after about 20 miles) around, it wouldn't have been fair to my riding partner to make her slow down to accommodate me, and it wouldn't have been fair to myself.

Which brings me to my point:  How does that kind of "tough" impact your horse?  If you're injured, your body is naturally compensating to protect the injured area.  In the case of a sprained ankle, more weight is going to be put on the uninjured side.  Ditto the case with an arm or ribs.  Head injury?  At the very least, your mind is fuzzy, your balance is impaired, and you may not be making the best decisions.  (Kinda like drinking, only not as much fun.)

We've all proven how "tough" we are just by doing this crazy sport.  How does a little bit of self-preservation mitigate that?  I'm all for being "tough" (Who's seen Annie Get Your Gun?  "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" comes to mind...) but it shouldn't be at the cost to your horse.  That said...

Endurance UP!

Reader Feedback: I shared some of my dumber tell me I'm not alone!  Have you had your "tough" moments that you later regretted?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wild One

Someone really needs to remind my pony that: 1) She's 18 years old and 2) Despite the fact that she lives surrounded by them, she is not actually an Arabian.

Friday's day-long dust storm ushered in an overnight rain storm, and with it, and significant drop in temperatures.  Last week it was still in the high 80s.  Saturday, it was in the 50s.  Overall, I'm a fair-weather desert rat...but this weather change feels SO good.  Storm clouds lingered on the higher peaks of the Mazatzal Mountains and Four Peaks, which lie to the northeast of the Valley, and once they cleared off, a light dusting of white powder could be seen from miles away.  (Yes, we do get snow in the desert.)

Today was slightly warmer -- in the 60s.  Absolutely perfect fall weather.  Mimi felt really good with the cooler temperatures.  She's a funny little thing in that she really doesn't like the cold, especially if it's also wet.  But this kind of weather, particularly in the middle of a sunny day, makes her very happy.

She was super-energetic for our ride today, and I know I'm going to have to bum a ride from someone in fairly short order and get her out again...she needs ten miles or so to wear her out!  She had some issues with the idea of "walk" today, even offering a jig several times.  A jig!  In the arena!

What happened to my show-trained arena pony???

She is fun to ride when she's that energetic, though.  Very forward and surprisingly easy to ride.  And it warms my heart to see her have that much energy and forwardness even for something like arena work.

(Today was a picture fail day...I actually needed two hands on the reins.  But I'll leave you with an amusing mental image of my "confused cowgirl" look I'm currently rocking: western-style shirt, blue jeans, cowboy boots...English-style endurance saddle, helmet, and western leather headstall and rope reins for today's schooling session.  Is it any wonder endurance is a good fit for me?)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Play Day

Last week, the barn owner asked me if I would be able to help out on irrigation day (I was going to be in the neighborhood anyway) by opening up the last irrigation ditch port and keeping an eye on the last 20 or so minutes of irrigation.

So just for kicks, Mimi and I "monitored" the irrigation as it came riding in it.  Picture an approximately 4 acre pasture, covered in up to a foot of water in some places.  Because it was so newly irrigated and there's a mature (if sparse) covering of grass in the pasture, it hadn't yet gotten muddy.  The ground was firm, Mimi's bare hooves gave her plenty of we went out and played.

She waded pretty cautiously at first, testing the footing to see if it was solid.  When we ventured into the deeper section, she sniffed at the water, then started pawing at it.  A couple times, she felt like she was going to offer to roll, and that earned her a swift boot in the ribs.  Funny, because she's never once tried to roll in any other water crossings we've done.  Y'know, 'cause water crossing opportunities are so prolific in the desert... ;)

Flooded-out pasture.  Cell phone with its not-ideal camera
was the only camera I had on me.

It was a good chance just to play.  No pressure, no work, and a chance to remind Mimi that the saddle doesn't always mean doing boring circles.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Video Post

I had my camera down at the barn today, so decided to do a blog post via video today, composed as I rode Mimi around the arena.

Warning: Those that experience motion sickness may find the movement in the video to be somewhat distressing.  If you've seen my previous videos from endurance rides...this one is actually a bit smoother.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Go Bells

I could tell you the full story here...or I could just direct you to the new Go Bells and Go Bells Inventory pages on the link bar at the top of the page.


Check them out!  They're a colorful, pretty answer to letting those around you on the trail know you're there.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Memory Exercise: A Ride Story, One Year Later

I should win an award.  "Longest Time Waiting For Ride Story" or something.  It's been a year since I did the LD at McDowell Mountain Park with Beamer, and I'm just now sitting down to write about it.  Timely reporting fail.  It wasn't that the ride was bad, either.  I just lacked the motivation at the time to sit down and write.  Then we sold the horse, and I really didn't want to write.  I think I'm finally getting to the point where I feel like writing again.  Not okay with the horse being gone...will probably never be fully okay with that, because that means being okay with where my life is at right now, and that's not happening.

So we're going to put my memory to the test, and see how much of the ride I can remember.  Fortunately, I've got a lot of pictures.  So even if the story doesn't turn out to be very entertaining...enjoy the photogenic horse.


Going to the ride was something of a last-minute whim.  Well, last minute as in "a month ahead of time."  A month to get Beamer, who had never really been out on his own, and who had had most of the summer off, back in shape.  Mimi was down for the count with an abscess, Dad was down for the count with being crazy-busy with work...I was without a horse, Beamer was without a rider.  Do the math, and between the four of us, we had one functioning riding team.

He did really well in the month leading up to the ride out on his own.  Dad and I took turns taking him out by himself at the San Tans, and he really impressed me, enough to where I felt comfortable with the notion of taking him to a ride, where we'd at least have other horses around us, if not riding with us.  Also bolstering this confidence was the discovery that my saddle fit him.  My designed-for-flat-wide-backed-horses-with-no-withers Duett actually fit him.  The Skito Dryback pad provided sufficient padding to keep the saddle off his withers, and after switching between Dad's saddle and mine, there was no determinable difference in his movement.  All the sweeter for me, since I really love my saddle.  (As an date, that saddle's been on four different horses for rides, and fit all four of them.  Four varying conformations.  Color me impressed.)


Fast forward to the Friday of the ride.  He loaded into the trailer with nary a peep (this horse has awesome trailer manners) and dug into his hay bag.  Mimi, stuck in the barn, was furious, and sulked in the corner of her stall as we left.  I tried to bribe her with food, but that only went so far...

McDowell is about an hour away from the barn, and an easy drive.  We got there early afternoon, and as soon as I opened up the trailer, Beamer looked around, gave the horsey equivalent of a shoulder shrug, and hopped out of the trailer.  I'm sure it really helped that he'd done two previous rides there -- another reason I felt this would be a good ride for us.  This may have bitten us in the butt at some point...but more on that later.

We wandered around camp for a few minutes, him on a loose lead, taking in the sights.  Then it was back to the trailer, and he got installed on Mimi's side of the trailer -- and her HiTie.  He'd been on the HiTie approximately once before, and that was only after he had gone 25 miles.  Didn't phase him at all, although he didn't entirely catch on to the "I can turn myself around in a circle" concept.  He did like the "more moving space" concept.

If I didn't know for a fact this was Beamer (and the blue
bucket to prove it), I would swear it was The Pony.
He's a really good camper, and we ended up with horses next to us and horses behind us, so he was surrounded by a safe, horsey companion bubble.

Vet-In.  Dr. Rick knows me...and he knows Beamer.  Just not
together.  Had a couple moments of amused confusion.
We went over and vetted in, pausing along the way to explain to several people that "No, my pony didn't grow; No, I didn't technically get a new horse; Yes, that horse is familiar because it's actually my father's horse."  Vetting went off without a hitch, and I have to pause for a moment to admire Beamer's trot.  Even his lazy trot (which he did for that vet-in) is nicer than Mimi's best trot. Arab versus non-Arab, I guess.  (And younger and sound versus older and fused hocks.)  He also vetted in barefoot, which was awesome.  Beautiful decomposed granite that makes up the parking lot means great footing for trot-outs.

My biggest challenge was going to be pre-riding on Friday.  It's a necessity with Beamer.  He needs that time to blow off some steam, even if it's just a couple of miles.  He's usually higher than a kite, and feels like riding a powder-keg, per my father.  If we could get through this --alone -- than we'd probably stand a chance of managing the ride just fine.  We just had to survive Friday afternoon.

I'll admit -- I had more than a few nerves going on at this point.  Beamer is a lot bigger than I'm used to (five inches, to be exact) and a very powerful horse.  He'd tossed me off on a couple of occasions very shortly after we got him, and I've been a bit wary of him ever since.  So we started off hand-walking down the service road the 25s would the starting on the next morning.  The other necessity for me with Beamer is a mounting block of sorts.  I don't flat-mount 15hh horses.  About a hundred yards or so down the trail, I spotted some nice sturdy rocks just off the trail and used them to slither on.

Beamer was definitely up, and we tiptoed our way down the trail.  He gave me a couple head shakes on one of the downhills, suggesting how very much he would like to trot...and subsequently buck.  I declined.  We walked.  We probably went out another mile or so, then turned around.  Heading home, I allowed him some very brief controlled trotting moments.  He reminds me of a pressure cooker: You have to bleed the steam off slowly, in a controlled manner.  If you let it all out at once, your lid is going to explode and hit the ceiling.

Once we got back to camp, we stood around talking to a few people around the check-in/vet-in area, and he was great.  Standing there all relaxed and curious about what was happening.  He drank some at the trough, then we meandered back to the trailer.  He got dinner, and I got a ride briefing.

He was a great camper overnight...I never even heard him out there.  I did have to remember to talk to him when I'd open up the door, otherwise the sudden opening of the dressing room door would tend to startle him.

The Ride

Specifics escape me, but I want to say we had a fairly early start...6:30, maybe?  I was up super-early to allow myself plenty of time to eat, put Beamer's Renegades on, mess with saddlepacks, and the whole "new and different horse" thing.  Fortunately, the vet check between Loop One (15 miles) and Loop Two (10 miles) was back in camp, so I didn't have to pack the crew box or worry about getting food together.

Got my coffee and gave Beamer his breakfast, then set to work nibbling on something for myself.  I have to eat on ride mornings -- years of show training instilled an almost instinctive ability to eat, despite nerves and busy-ness -- but I can't eat quickly.  In between bites of hard-boiled egg and peanut butter toast, I slipped Beamer's boots on.  This horse was made for Renegades.  They go on so easy and fit his feet perfectly.  They were the one thing I wasn't worried about at all, since I've been with Dad and Beamer for every one of their miles and seen their track record with these boots.

(He's had two boots come off in a period of five years.  Earlier on, we had trouble with Beamer wearing out the Velcro straps very quickly, especially in the highs.  He'd drag his toes and roll the Velcro.  Shortening his toes ended that problem.)

Dad came up to crew for us, since home was only about half an hour away.  His help was appreciated, and most important, his moral support.  He knows the horse much better than I do, too, so he'd be able to give me feedback at the vetcheck of how Beamer looked.  (One of Beamer's nicknames, given in one of my not-so-charitable moments, is "Sandbagger."  He can be the biggest lazy-a** of a horse sometimes, and doesn't necessarily love haaaaaard work.)  Dad knows the difference between "Sandbag Beamer" and "Tired Beamer."

Dad was also responsible for getting a ton of pictures of us, since I wasn't brave enough to bring my camera along.  I was planning on two hands on the reins at all times, never mind taking pictures.

Last-minute tack adjustments.  Yes, we are disgustingly
color-coordinated.  Did I mention it was a Halloween ride?
I wasn't even going for the Halloween effect -- it was the
Renegade Sport Orange subliminal color advertising at work.
If the color didn't work, my Renegade t-shirt did.
Beamer is almost disgustingly calm on the ground.  Really, he has fabulous ground manners.  Please note the "no hands on the lead" display.  One of these days, I'm going to run across a horse that actually requires me to pay attention on the ground...

I did my last-minute tack fidgets, gave Beamer his accustomed couple circles of lunging, took a deep breath, and scrambled on.  It was still plenty early, and I had timed things just right to give me my accustomed 15 minutes of warm-up.  We walked up to the start and walked circles.  Most amusingly, the only behavioral indiscretion on Beamer's part came when we'd turn and start walking away from the start.  He threatened to hop up and down a couple times, and then settled as soon as we faced the starting area again.
Up, but keeping it together.  The tail is only at half-mast,
which is a good sign.  The grin isn't faked, either.

Okay, this is good.  He wants to go.

We started off pretty much in the middle of the pack, which is how Beamer prefers it.  The warm-up time allowed us to go right along at a trot.  He really held it together, despite the horse with the grass hula skirt that was right on his tail.  I could tell it was concerning him, so I let them pass, and he relaxed.

We hit a sand wash almost immediately, and I was able to let him move out at a nice trot.  I got a few head-shakes out of him when I'd check him, but again...keeping it together.

Alerting on the hula skirt behind us.
The wash was only a short stretch, and then we connected up to the Scenic Trail that runs along a ridgeline with a fabulous view of the Verde River in the distance.  Halfway up the hill, I experienced one of Beamer's acrobatic feats.  Tired of me checking him, wondering why the horses ahead of him all disappeared around the corner, and concerned about the horses in the wash below us, he let out an impressive buck.  While trotting.  On a rocky singletrack.  Uphill.

This horse is an athletic freak.

I checked him, let out some colorful language, and we kept moving forward.  Made some pretty good time along the ridgeline, and he didn't spook at the bench that Mimi always spooks at.  It's really a pretty trail, and I love the 360* views.  When I've done the ride in the past, the 50s didn't do this section of trail until the afternoon, and by then it was hot, and not nearly as much fun.

Down on the other side of the mountain, there was a water stop at the road, and the ride photographer stationed nearby.

Photographer Dean Stanton got a great series of pics.  B
was alert, a little wary, but the end result was beautiful!
 He wasn't much interested in water, but given that it was only five or so miles into the ride, I wasn't surprised.

Stopped for the road crossing.  He didn't want to stop.
There were sufficient horses around us that he was plenty motivated to keep going, and wanted to do more than trot.  Given we had only gone about five miles, and given that he had already displayed some vertical hind-end enthusiasm, I elected for a trot.  He's got a big trot when he's motivated.

This section of the park is probably my least favorite, especially as you approach the northwestern-most corner.  The trail has a lot of blind curves and is quite brushy in some places.  B has never been fond of it either, but we made it through unscathed, with only one bike popping up behind us and startling B.

There was another water stop at the far end of this loop.  I actually hopped off here to adjust my pad (general endurance cut, no billet straps, so it tends to wiggle about under my saddle) and sloshed a bit of water on B's neck.  He did not appreciate the gesture, even though he was fuzzy (I had clipped his neck earlier in the week, and braided his mane that morning) and getting sweaty.  He also didn't drink.  Again, we'd only come 10 miles or so, but he usually drinks by this point.  Internalized nerves were probably interfering to some degree.

The benefit of riding a horse you enough is younger, tougher, and has more natural athleticism than your own horse?  You only lose a couple of minutes worrying about them before taking the tough love, "they'll learn not to ignore water when it's offered" tactic.  Me being me, though...I still worried a bit.  But I didn't waste time trying to bribe him.  Found a suitable dirt pile and scrambled back on.  (13.3hh is sounding better all the time.)

A little ways past the water stop, one of my rear boot bags started flopping around, and I did my best to jerry-rig it in place without getting off the horse.  Also, with only using one hand, since I didn't trust him enough to let go of both reins.  It sorta stayed in place...until we started trotting again.  Yanked it off and clipped it to the front of my saddle, where I could hold it in place.

Shortly beyond this point, we got off the nice single-track and into a wash.  A rather deep wash that's really shrubby on both sides.  Beamer got very up and this point, so I hopped off to walk him, lest someone come up behind us and send him launching.  This was my major tactical mistake of the ride.  I got off to walk...and couldn't get back on.  There wasn't a good, safe place to mount, and whenever I'd go to get on, Beamer would sidle away.  So we walked.

Did I mention this wash was about two miles long?  I hand-walked all. of. it.  Unfortunately, this really cost us some serious time.  Finally got out of the wash and to the water stop.  Beamer drank, I sponged him, and tied my boot bag back in place.  And re-adjusted my saddle pad.  Again.

I was hot, sweaty, and a little bit peeved at this point, and a bit annoyed that there wasn't a suitable place to get on.  (Ya think you should learn to flat-mount a tall horse, O' Out-of-Shape One?)

So I ended up hand-walking out of the water stop.  Note to self: When someone offers to give you a hand, take them up on it.  Tried getting on a couple more times past the stop, and B wasn't having it.  He was liking this whole "rider walks" gig.
Low point...leading out because I can't figure out how to get
back on my horse.

I finally found a large pile of rocks that were used to surround one of the trail signs.  As Beamer sidled away one more time, the end of my reins might have connected with his shoulder, and I might have called him some very colorful names...but it made my point.  I was done with his games.

Funny enough, he stepped right up to the rocks after that.  Epic mounting fail on my part was what followed next.  I knew it was a bad spot to get on, but there was literally nothing else to use.  So as I hopped up and swung my leg, my foot hit the metal sign.

Kudos to Beamer...he really held it together.  That would have been enough to incite a bucking fit, but all he did was surge forward, with his butt tucked in concern and head up.  Fortunately I had my reins.  Only one stirrup, though.  So he redeemed himself, although I considered spooking him my revenge for the endless walking.

Now it was a mission to make up time.  We got trotting, and then cantering.  He's got a great canter.  The textbook, rocking-horse kind of canter.  It's not super-speedy, but we clip along, and it's really surefooted.  Best part was the trail was a gentle downhill grade, and he felt perfectly balanced and comfortable.  (Can't safely canter downhill on an already-downhill-built pony.)

Time was of the essence now...which is of course why he decided the water trough at the next road crossing looked delicious.  Guess he figured out that "use it or lose it" thing...

The way back into camp was The Wash that McDowell is infamous for -- two miles of fairly deep sand.  Having done this ride twice, Beamer knows this wash.  He was a trooper heading down it, though -- probably helped that we were heading for "home."

Sorta dragging in at the end of Loop One.  Grin is for the
camera, since I was more grim at this point.
We trotted most of the back in, and I hopped off just outside of camp.  Dad was waiting for us, a bit concerned because we were pretty near the tail-end of the pack.

 By the time we walked in, I loosened my girth, let him drink, and removed his S-hack, B was down.  Wow, that horse pulses in fast.  (It was probably less than two minutes.)

He vetted in great...I want to say all As.
He doesn't even look tired.  I, OTOH, look wilted.

We had an hour hold, during which time I managed to sit down for probably ten whole minutes.  (Tevis practice.)  I stripped tack for whatever reason, which is the first time I can recall ever doing so.  I suspect it had something to do with the heat, and the fact we were back at the  trailer, so could dump it on a saddle tack.  I think I wanted to pull the saddle pad out and reset the whole thing in an effort to keep the pad from wiggling so much.

In that hour, I managed to: untack, feed the horse, eat, pull off the annoying boot bags, check the GPS (alarmingly, the "15" mile loop was clocking in at 18), take a potty break, shed my long-sleeve t-shirt, re-tack, and be in the saddle again five minutes before my out-time.

A little effort, B?  Both of my feet are off the ground.

I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles.  I had an hour and half to finish.  I wasn't sure I could make it...but I was going to try.

B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the "go" from the out-timer.

I was racing the clock now, and had determined that the next loop was probably somewhere between 8-10 miles.  I had an hour and half to finish.  I wasn't sure I could make it...but I was going to try.

Waiting to head out on Loop Two.
B got another drink at the trough, and then we walked around as we waited for the "go" from the out-timer.  I wanted to make sure he was plenty warmed-up so we could hit the ground running...okay, trotting.  I was determined to make every second of the second loop count.

The impressive trot lasted until we hit the sand wash again (all of about ten seconds...) and then it was back to peddle-peddle-peddle for the next two miles.  I'd get a bit of a peddle-trot out of him, then we'd slouch to a walk again.  Peddle-trot-slouch-walk.  There were two riders behind me, and we leapfrogged up the wash this way.  None of our horses were particularly motivated or wanted to lead, so the old "go ahead, follow the one in front of you" standby wasn't working so well.  Once we hit the single-track again, he picked up.  (Why does this surprise happened this way the other two times.)

Of course we had to stop at the water trough at the road crossing again.  After that, we did got a good clip going.  Until we hit the next wash.  B slowed down, but I wheedled, peddled, coaxed, cajoled, and encouraged him up the wash at a respectable trot.  Motivation was trying to stay ahead of the two ladies behind us.  He did really good, and got a lot of "atta boy" praises along the way.

Once we hit single-track, he picked it up again, and we really upped the speed with some nice stretches of cantering.  There was enough up and down on the trail that it really broke things up...good for the rest, but harder to keep up a good average pace.

The trail eventually looped back around to the same water stop from earlier in the day...and this time, I stayed mounted.  (She eventually catches on, that one...)  He drank, then we boogied.
I love this picture.  :)  Heading home for the final stretch.

We were both familiar with this stretch right after the water, and we flew.  I was so impressed with B...he was cantering along on a loose rein, cheerfully watching the trail.  At one point, we had an impressive skid moment...he hit a slick batch of decomposed granite and both hind feet skidded forward...and he never missed a beat.  Still kept right on cantering.  See above re: Athletic Freak.

We were clipping right along...came to the road crossing again, he drank (again), and then we hit the wash.  And B hit the wall.  Didn't matter how much I begged, pleaded, peddled, cajoled, prodded, whatnot...he wasn't gonna go.  Nope, not down that wash again.  He'd cheerfully walk out, but he wasn't going to trot again.  Well, we had about a mile and half to go...and five minutes to make it.  Well, that wasn't going to happen.

I was bummed, but resigned.  He'd done his best, and really, done more than I expected: 25 miles, all by himself.  I'm guessing he was just mentally done at this point and tired of being on his own.  We ended up coming in about 20 minutes overtime.  *sigh*  I'd called Dad from down in the wash to let him know.

Just as a courtesy, we pulsed down (B was something in the low 40's, so he wasn't physically tired, just mentally a bit done-in for the day.  He still looked really perky and was starving back at the trailer.) and did an exit check and turned in my vet card.

We took B back to the trailer and cleaned him up and let him rest while we packed up the trailer.  (Ooo, forgot how nice finishing while it's still early afternoon can be.)

So I was really tickled with B, even if we didn't officially complete.  But wait...there's an epilogue to this story...


Remember when I said I GPS'd the first loop at 18 miles?  Well, when I pulled my boot bags off at lunch, I forgot to pull out my GPS to record the second loop.  A couple days post-ride, I get an e-mail from the trail master of the ride, wondering if I had a GPS track of the LD.  No, not the whole thing...but I have the first loop.  Okay, she says.  We believe there were some mileage discrepancies, and I'm going to go out to the park today and ride the LD trail myself.

A couple days later, I hear from her and the ride manager: the 25 actually GPS'd closer to 29 miles, therefore the mileage was being increased to a 30...and the completion time extended by an hour and fifteen minutes.  Which means we actually got our finish.  Yeah!!!

We ended up coming in 33rd out of 38, with a ride time of 5:32.

October 2011

I can't believe how much of that I remembered.  It was clearly a good ride for me to recall so much.  I really had fun, and was pleased as punch with how Beamer did.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Pony" is a four-letter word

Today was a "pony" day, said with much disgust and shaking of the head.  We were due for it...she's been an angel for the past couple of months, but the "pony" part of her personality is never far below the surface.  Today, it was standing up and doing the hula.

*blinks*  Now there's a mental image for ya.  (All of the costume classes I did, I never gave Mimi the indignity of a hula skirt.  Missed opportunity...)

We cranked out about half an hour of arena work, heavy focus on the trot and canter (and some rider torture in the form of riding without stirrups).  Brought my GPS out , just for kicks, and discovered that we covered about 2 miles with our laps around the arena.  Cool.  Better than nothing, and it is a sand arena.

She wasn't all bad.  I dusted off the jumping hackamore and got it adjusted properly, and she was working beautifully in it.  Seems to be a great choice for arena work, and she was even softer in it than the S-hack.  She had a fabulous whoa today, too...but that might have had something to do with the fact that she "didn't wanna work."  I don't think it'll translate over to the trail quite as well, since Ms. Curb-Your-Enthusiasm needs a little bit of a reminder that blasting off at Mach 3 is not on the recommended itinerary.

But I like keeping arena and trail gear separate.  It's something I've done for years, ever since show days: western bit for western classes, kimberwick for english flat classes, snaffle for jumping classes, and hackamore for gymkhana.  So it's a principle she's well-versed in: "X means fun, Y means work."

Worked on her hooves...they're looking really good right now.  Picture taking fail today, since I was pretty much done in by the time I got around to working on her feet and out of patience for messing with the camera.  Her hooves are slowing down in their growth as her system readjusts to the ever-decreasing amount of daylight and redirects its energies towards growing a fine, fuzzy winter coat.  In 95*.  Proof right there that horse hair growth is controlled by daylight hours, not temperature.  At least I don't have to worry about clipping her this winter, and the subsequent "to blanket or not to blanket" question.

It was also warm enough for her to get a shower (Horrors...I removed her protective layer of dirt coating!) after we were done, which made for east-trim hooves.  She was thoroughly hacked off that I had the nerve to get her face wet, and proceeded to whip me with her (soaking wet) tail during the rest of the process.  Thanks, pony.

All was well at the end, since she did her spiffy little bowing trick for a carrot.  Never mind that she almost fell over, she was so excited to see a rare, elusive carrot appear before her.  Carrots cure all ills, at least in her mind.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Here We Go Again...The Great LD vs. Endurance Debate


That's the bell going off for round whatever-illion of the never-ending "Endurance Versus Limited Distance" debate on Ridecamp and other email lists and forums.  Around the country, many people are starting to experience weather that encourages indoor hibernation, which in turn leads to sitting in front of computers and snarking, for lack of anything better to do.

This time, from my understanding, it started with a restructuring of points for 100s, which turned to talk of combined mileage recognition (lifetime accumulated miles of both LDs and 50s for a horse), which in turn has degenerated to the good old favorite topic of debate that crops up every winter...LD vs. Endurance.  Half the talk makes my eyes glaze over, mostly because it's points and mileage and stuff I've never concerned myself with because I've never ridden that competitively, and the other half makes me cringe because it's starting to get nasty. I've been an AERC member for six years now, and I've seen this debate...hmmm....annually, with a few minor rounds cropping up here and there during the year, just to keep people in fighting-trim.

Sometimes, I suspect it'll never truly end.

As someone who has done both 50s and LDs, I can understand both sides of the argument.  Neither side is all wrong or all right.  I'm sure I'm going to manage to inflame some people along the way, but to me, it's a pretty simple concept: Calling yourself an endurance rider is a privilege, not a right, and it is something earned through an extraordinary amount of work and time.  This is not to say that conditioning for an LD isn't work.  For some people, it may be their own personal equivalent of training for a 50, and this isn't meant to diminish a personal accomplishment.  But the bottom line is, 50s are more work and therefore earn the title of "endurance."


In the AERC bylaws, endurance is defined as "events 50 miles and above."  This gives us a baseline and standard of performance.  50 miles is not easy.  Maybe to those riders whose miles are hitting quadruple digits and above, 50 miles starts to become commonplace.  But for someone who doesn't even have an endurance mileage patch yet, the idea that a 50 mile ride may someday seem "easy" is a thought to be marveled.  Per Webster:

endure: to last; suffer patiently; tolerate

By its very name, "endurance" is to be celebrated as something that has been worked for and earned.  Let's face it: It takes a lot of work to get a horse 50-mile ready, and then keep them there.  It takes time, dedication, and then a bit of luck tossed in there for good measure.

And the fact is, not all horses can do 50 miles.  I did some teeth-gnashing during Tevis weekend, wondering how these horses can be 17+ and still able to even think about competing at the Tevis level -- and some of them finishing -- when my 18-year-old pony is retired from even LD competition.  She was a 50-mile horse at one point, and I'm so proud of every one of her 200 miles that she earned, because it was a lot of work, and she was a very unlikely endurance horse.

But the blood, sweat, and tears that we poured into training and conditioning gave us the right to call ourselves an endurance team for the three years we competed.  "Endurance" is a title that is earned through a lot of hard work and time...being able to call yourself an "endurance rider" is not something to be given out's a recognition of the effort that has gone into getting to that point.

At the moment, I'm not an endurance rider.  I'm a competition horse-less rider who will call myself whatever kind of rider I am on any given day I can snag a horse from somebody.  Right now, I'm a mostly-arena rider who "trail rides" on the streets around the barn.  When I've been fortunate enough to have somebody loan me a horse, then I'm a distance rider again.  But until I am riding 50s again, I am not an endurance rider.  I've done endurance in the past, but I'm not now...and to call myself an endurance rider is doing a disservice to anyone who is actively riding 50s and putting in the time and effort.

Limited Distance

I started AERC by doing LDs.  I did three years of LDs before my first 50, and have continued to do them since.  I still enjoy LDs, and quite like the fact I can comfortably walk in the days to follow.  Three of my LD rides have been on new or unfamiliar horses, and it was reassuring to know that if things went all pear-shaped, I only had to deal with it for 25 miles.

I've heard the adage that, "Any horse can do a 25."  Respectfully, I disagree.  I know plenty of horses that are unsuited for any kind of outside trail work, let alone 25 miles, maintaining an average speed of 5mph.  That's something I won't even ask Mimi for anymore.

As I stated earlier, for some people that are physically unable to ride for 50 miles, or have a horse unsuited for 50 miles, or lack the time to train, whatever the reason may be, to them, an LD could be a huge personal accomplishment.  And I'm not trying to devalue that or take that away from anybody.

But it comes down to this: Individual situations aside, 25s are not as much work as 50s.  Period.  End of story.  Therefore, LDs should not be elevated to the same level as endurance.  You cannot have the same amount of recognition for half the amount of work.

Let me say again: I do not have a problem with LDs.  I want to see them continue.  We need LDs to bring new people into the sport.  Most people are intimidated by the idea of riding for 50 miles right off the bat.  That's one of the reasons it's so important for more experienced riders to take an interest in LD riders.  Make them feel welcome.  Offer assistance or be a mentor.

It makes me sad when I hear LD riders say they feel "unwelcome" or "ostracized" because of the distance they're riding.  If that's the case, then shame on you, endurance riders.  I personally had a wonderful introduction to the sport.  My very first LD, I was fortunate enough to be camped next to a very, very experienced endurance rider.  Patty took me under her wing, answered questions that I didn't even know I had, and made me feel welcome the entire weekend.  

At another ride, an experienced endurance rider corrected my self-deprecating attitude of "only doing the 25."  Their response?  "It's still an accomplishment.  That's 25 more miles than most people ride."  (And after the last ride I did, I was glad it was "only" 25 miles!  I was out of shape and not sure I could have made it 50.)

I admit I don't go out of my way to mentor...heck, I feel like I still need a mentor some days.  But I do try to be welcoming at rides.  I might not have my electrolyte protocol down to a shareable science...but I can probably tell someone where the registration and check-in table is located.  The only way AERC is going to continue to grow as an organization is if we make people feel welcome and bring them into the fold...and that often happens through LDs as the first stepping stone.  And once people get hooked on LDs, it often opens up the possibilities of doing 50s.

Bottom Line

I probably opened a giant can of worms with this topic, but it's one that isn't going away any time soon.  Not that it needs to go away...a little healthy debate is what keeps thing interesting and innovative, but it also can't be allowed to tear apart our organization.

That said...

I feel that keeping LD and endurance separate when it comes to recognition is for the best.  It's not fair for endurance riders who have put the time and energy into conditioning to have an LD horse and rider be elevated to the same level.  And LD riders that want to be called "endurance" riders should have to put forth the same amount of effort and energy to earn that title.  

To call one's self an endurance rider is a title that is earned, not given.  You have to work for it...and I look forward to working towards the next time I can call myself an endurance rider again.